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My Pivot Journal: How Tosin Saba left a law career to become a celebrity chef

Business

My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.

What makes a kitchen so important to life? Is it the nourishment that comes from it or the fact that it’s an easily accessible creative hub? For most people, one of these two answers suffice. But for Tosin Saba, it’s also a place for self-discovery. As Andrew Zimmern said, “Everything happens in the kitchen. Life happens in the kitchen.” Two hats describe her journey: a lawyer’s wig and a torque blanche. How did it happen? Here is Tosin Saba’s pivot journal.

How it started

Growing up, I always wanted to be a lawyer. It was one of those careers we fantasized about as kids: lawyers, doctors and engineers. But for some weird reason, I also wanted to own a bar. (Now, that would be a nice real-life double-entendre: being called to Bar and owning a bar). And so I pursued both. I studied law at the University of Lagos and did get called to Bar. While I was a student, I did a lot of side work for clubs in Lagos. That way, I was simultaneously gaining the required knowledge and experience to achieve both dreams. It was hectic but fun.

I learnt to multi-task from my mum, so it wasn’t strange. She used to be a vet, but on the side, she owned a salon and a catering business. And as the first of her three kids, I had to learn the ropes. I still know how to braid.

Epiphany

In my third year in school (300-level), I figured that law wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t cut out for litigation or corporate law. If at all I was going to be a lawyer, it would have to be entertainment law. But I still had to finish, or else my family would disown me (lol).

Right after I got called to Bar, I relocated to Maryland in the United States. When I got here, I became more certain that I wouldn’t spend my life practising. The laws here are different, so doing it means I would have to learn them all over. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even sure I would settle in Maryland, and laws vary from one state to the other. I had to do something else.

On the other hand, I’m a very picky eater (people say it’s because my mum is a caterer). So it was hard for me to find good Nigerian food when I arrived in Maryland. So I started cooking my food in bulk for work. Then people (family and friends at first) started asking me to cook for them and offered to pay. I thought this could be a business but didn’t immediately jump into it.

Tosin Saba
Tosin Saba

Transition

In 2019, my son’s birthday came up, and I made a feast. I prepared all the food people ate that day, and everyone started urging me to monetize my cooking. I was already getting paid to cook for events and to do meal preps, but it was from family and friends.

A few days after that event, I messed around one day at work and opened an Instagram page for the business. Then a friend offered to create my first logo. A year later, I officially registered the business named Abeni’s Kitchen.

But that was the easy part. The early days were difficult because I had to build the business while having a full-time job and parenting. Then the pandemic hit, and Maryland was on lockdown. The next thing was me getting laid off from work. So this ‘side hustle’ had to become my primary source of income.

Fortunately, I had gained some traction before getting laid off. And the lockdowns became an opportunity for me because people started ordering food trays for their whole families. I decided to double down on the business until it became a brand. In two years, I have cooked for people of all social classes, including dignitaries, athletes and celebrities like Davido, Fireboy, Omahlay, Adekunle Gold, Tiwa Savage, Bisola Aiyeola, and Joeboy.

How it’s going

I got a commercial kitchen to scale up my work. But after I got pregnant, I had to (temporarily) shut down. It didn’t make sense to keep paying rent for a space when I won’t be around long enough to work and make a profit. I also decided to take a much-needed break from cooking because I can’t work long hours pregnant. But the kitchen should be back up and running again before summer ends.

In the meantime, I picked up data analytics. I don’t know where this one would lead yet, so for now, I’m just enjoying learning something new.

Career hack

Not to brag, but my food tastes really good. And I think that’s the “hack” for me is doing work that speaks for itself.

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