Made of hot dogs

It is a hot Sunday afternoon and John cautiously steers the Avanza through the typical serene streets of Katutura on a Sunday. Emma Isaaks could only find time for the interview after church.

“You must come and see how this burger and hot dog business has elevated me,” Isaaks had bellowed the day she confirmed the meeting, in a voice that laid bare her pride and satisfaction stirring immense curiosity and anxiety within me as days dragged by.

Isaaks wore a pretty orange floral outfit that matches her cheerful personality as she hastily escorted us into the comfort of her house and began to narrate how she and her husband, Willem, weathered the storms and turned the wheels of fortune in their favour through sheer determination and hard work.

But the push to start up a small family business had emanated from the realisation that the income both Emma and Willem earned from their auction jobs was no longer sufficient to cover the family’s needs and expenses. Isaaks recalls how her husband had suggested starting a business of selling and told her that she had an innate selling skill that would benefit the business. Uncertainty shrouded the initiative and in 1995, Willem applied for a license to operate a mobile food cart from the City of Windhoek.

“It was the only available place that time and situated opposite an already established food cart that had been operating for seven years,” explains Isaaks. The couple began trading from the corner of Independence Drive and Frans Indongo Street, embarking on a mammoth task of getting a reasonable share of the market. The little known Isaaks, relying on her innate selling skills, started off very modestly merely selling fifteen hotdogs and ten burgers a day but by the end of the second year in operation, the sales almost trebled to 50 hotdogs during month-ends.

But Isaaks explained how heart-rending it was in the beginning to watch hordes of customers cross over to the cart on the opposite side of the road to buy hotdogs and burgers. In 1997, she attended a training course that had been organised by the Ministry of Education on how to market goods and services and how to talk to potential customers and customers. For Isaaks, this turned out to be the magic bullet that gunned down the previous years’ inadequacies and low sales and brought to the fore lessons learnt at the workshop. It was time to shine.

“It was a very good course and after the training, I secured a N$5 000 loan from the First National Bank (FNB) which I used to buy stock and managed to pay it back.”

Isaaks food cart business is arguably the best in time and the most popular. During lunch hours, long queues snake along the pavement for her burgers and hotdogs.

The training equipped her with selling skills that she implemented and started turning the wheels of fortune in her favour. Slowly but surely, Isaaks’ hotdog and burger business started to grow and patronage to her food cart steadily peaked. Today, she sells 250 burgers, 450 hotdogs and 120 cans of cool drinks per day, raking in a gross average of N$10 000.00 per day.

Little wonders that Isaaks’ take-away business has blossomed over the past 16 years. She has a magical embracing personality that bonds her with her customers. Every customer is called “sweetie or lovie” and places the orders in a musical tone that leaves you mesmerised.

Another interesting aspect that struck me is how well Isaaks knows her customers by names, positions or employers and by their meal preferences. This marketing relationship has made immense contributions towards the growth of the business. Some customers, Isaaks says, just stand in the corner and because she knows their regular meals, they are handed their orders without saying a word. That is how well Isaaks knows her customers.

“This house is a hot dog and burger house, I built it from the proceeds of the business,” Isaaks boasts. In 1998, the couple got an ERF and started off by building a four roomed Kambashu. Over the following six years, Isaaks saved money to build a decent home. Today, they are proud owners of an eight roomed house; four vehicles; livestock; a decent village home and a farm that her husband, Willem runs.

For a poor rural raised girl, with a mere grade seven certificate as the highest level of education, Isaaks has every reason to pat herself on the back. To fellow Namibian women, her message is clear, “ Everything you do, whether it is fat cakes, kapana or professional jobs, do it like you worship the undertaking because that is what the Bible says. Sow your seed for it to multiply and stay on your feet and work because we are in a free country.”

Raised by a single mother, Isaaks started school only at the age of 11 due to ill-health and ended her academic journey in grade seven. The traits for hard work in Isaaks were evident in her early childhood days. While still in school, she took up part time employment at a supermarket in Mariental to help her mother look after her siblings.

The burger business currently has four employees including Stanley; the eldest child in the family as well as active participation of the younger brother Elmarius Prince. PF