HE was expelled from Race Course primary school in 1970 for selling mandazi to fellow pupils despite warnings to stop doing so. Joseph Wainaina was in Standard 7 then and the expulsion ended his education.
"I would cook mandazi at home and hide them in my school bag. During break time as others played I would go round the school selling the mandazi to other pupils,” Wainaina recalls.
However, today, Wainaina is one of the leading hoteliers in Eldoret, after aggressively pursuing his childhood dream of being in the food industry.
The savvy businessman is the proprietor of Queens Garden Hotel and several other businesses in Eldoret.
His story perfectly depicts rising from grass to grace through sheer hard work and determination.
From making as little as Sh10,000 per month through selling Mandazi on the streets to earning millions now. He employs more than 120 people across his businesses.
“I was born a businessman and more so a hotelier," he says.
Wainaina remembers being caught by teachers so many times and cautioned over his illegal mandazi trade. But even then he did not stop selling them.
So good were his mandazis that other children would steal money from home to buy them.
“One day the head teacher caught me selling the mandazi, he called me, caned me and told me to go home and not to come back. I picked all my books and left but in my mind I knew I would still do the same no matter the place,” says Wainaina.
His father enrolled him in a driving school and soon he was employed as a taxi driver in Eldoret town where he worked for three years before reverting to the mandazi business in 1979. In the taxi business he had been employed with among others, the owner of the Eldoret Express Bus Company.
“I now did it without fear. I cooked mandazi everyday in my kiosk and went round the town selling it. I would make up to Sh300 per day but my dream was that one day I would be a large scale trader,” he says.
After saving a lot of money, Wainaina who is now 61, later changed his business and went into maize ventures. He bought maize from farmers as a middleman and sold it to the cereals board at a profit.
He operated this business for two years before he returned to the food industry, this time opening a butchery and a restaurant in 1982. The butchery business did so well that he later opened five others in different parts of Eldoret town.
“I saw God propelling me to achieve my desire and my determination grew in leaps and bounds,” he says.
In 2000 Wainaina opened the first 24-hour restaurant in Eldoret. It was known as Queen Chick. “It’s here that I really sold mandazi, tea and other food stuffs until I saw my dream become real.”
He operated the Queen Chick restaurant for about seven years until the 2007/2008 post election violence which he says was a turning point in his life.
“The post election violence was the worst experience in my life. I saw a lot of suffering among many people including my own family. But God still used my business to save many people and then bless me in turn,” says Wainaina.
The violence led to closure of all businesses in Eldoret town but in a strange turn of events, the government approached him not to shut down his Queen Chick restaurant so that he could supply food to security officers deployed to contain the violence in various parts of the region.
Police guarded the hotel round the clock throughout the chaos. Wainaina recalls being overwhelmed by hungry people who had money but could not find a place to eat.
“During that time I was not even interested in the money. I saw life come to an end and I prayed to God that all I wanted was peace,” he says.
He invested the money he had in buying food stuffs for security teams and although he got some money out of it, Wainaina says all he wanted was for the officers to eat and go out to help end the violence.
“I realized that you can have the money but without peace it is of no use,” he adds. During and after the violence, most of his friends and relatives fled from Eldoret. However he remained behind with his entire family.
“At one point I thought of relocating but again all my family members including my parents live in Eldoret. It would have been difficult to move them and I opted to stay on," he says.
After the violence ended, he sold off the Queen Chick restaurant, went for a loan to top-up his savings and used part of the money to develop the multi-million Queens Garden Hotel located near Eldoret Polytechnic along Kisumu Road.
The hotel is popular and frequented by top leaders in the country. President Uhuru Kenyatta has visited it once during a tour of Eldoret.
“Owning such a hotel was my dream even in the days I sold Mandazi but I never saw myself achieving this dream and all I can say is that God is great because when the door of education was shut for me, God opened another door for me in life,” says the businessman.
Through his business Wainaina has made friends with the high and mighty. “At times people think the president or politicians gave me money to invest but there is no such money. I struggled with determination and God uplifted me to where I am,” he says.
Sadly, he notes, the country has millions of educated youth who are jobless and there is need to inculcate the culture of hard work and determination in them so that they do not waste away expecting white colour jobs.
“With or without education, life is about determination and focus,” he says. He says government support programmes for youth like the Uwezo Fund can have more positive impact if youth are trained on how put the cash into good use.
Wainaina wants President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to create change and work hard in serving the country for future generations.
He has earned the reputation as a key figure in Eldoret, so much so that quite often he is consulted on important issues regarding communities in the region. Wainaina says leadership is not only by those who hold elective office.
“We can be leaders in our own way and at any place and I am happy that I help where I can,” he asserts.