Eighty-seven-year-old Risper Alwanda has never been to culinary school. Nor has she been a chef in a recognized restaurant.
In fact, having a hotel in Ahero Town was an afterthought. She cooked and sold food at a kiosk for business people and motorists.
As Ahero town is on the Nairobi-Kisumu highway, it quickly had a large number of customers after it was learned that it only cooks traditional Luo dishes.
The grandmother took advantage of the town being a retail market serving as the main trading center for traders from Kisii, Homa Bay and Nandi.
His food kiosk is called “Ka Dani”. Dani is dholuo for grandma.
“I started in the hotel business in September 1990,” says Alwanda.
Alwanda started with Sh200 and bought the traditional mito and dek vegetables as well as omena. “When I started it went well. By 1pm the food would be over and that would motivate me to buy more including omena. I even had customers coming and going from Nairobi and who stopped to eat.
Alwanda, originally from Kajulu, Kisumu, married Ahero, Kakola. For years, she would buy food worth between 500 and 1,000 shillings to cook for customers. Later, she switched to buying meat and ngege as well as kamongo.
For the ngege and the kamongo, she cooked fries or stews depending on the order. She would bring customers to the hotel from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. when the food is finished.
In 1999 she added aliyah to the menu, a traditional meat dish that is smoked and left in the sun for days to add flavor.
“I started with 10 kg of meat but realized that was not enough. I would dry the meat for a whole week before preparing it for a stew. Over time I realized that I I had so many customers coming for this particular dish,” she explains.
Years later, she introduced chicken to the menu.
Alwanda says it is through her business that she paid for her children’s school fees. She had 12 children but lost 11 who left her with grandchildren to help care for.
Alwanda also has clients from different communities, not just the Luo.
She has since left management of the business in the hands of her daughter-in-law Grace Anyango who took over in 2015.
She says the business, like any other, faces challenges such as rising food costs.