James Olum, proprietor of Duol Kombok.

A computer science graduate takes to entertainment and etches a career in the hospitality industry

By Caroline Mwendwa

Whether passion is more compelling than profession is debatable but for James Olum, despite pursuing a career in computer science, his heart would prove unstoppable in owning his own businesses. As early as 1997, after completing high school, Olum bore unique and viable business ideas. “With two of my friends, we acquired a postal address and earned from it by running a curio firm,” he recalls. Their efforts were appreciated by Copycat who contracted them to distribute letters using mountain bikes. After two years of offering curio services, Olum, joined college to pursue a degree in computer science. “Even though I studied computer science in school, all my experience has been in supply chain management,” he comments.
Immediately after college, Olum invested his skills in music production for churches and this is where he learnt how to spin the disks. He would offer his deejaying services to clubs in Westlands, Nairobi and then in town and while at it, he would lease his entertainment equipment for events.
Olum then landed an enviable job with Coca cola Ltd as a planner in 2013 where he worked for a whole year. “Even as planner at Coca Cola, I still had the desire to delve into entrepreneurship, and having worked in the hospitality and entertainment industries before, I still had in mind the high returns it can give,” he explains. And that is how Olum hit the road to actualize his dream of owning a bar and a restaurant. But just before he could settle down, Olum was given another irresistible job offer at Diversey East and Central Africa as a planner for West and Central Africa. After giving it a shot, he felt that what he was yearning for was a business of his own and once and for all, he quit employment and resolved to focus on business.
At the time of his search for a premises to set up the business, Olum learnt of DuolK’Ombok, a bar that was once owned by Ombok since 1958, and which attracted old men from far and wide for nyama choma ( roast meat) and fine wine. “Duol which means baraza ya Wazee was set up under an old tree that still stands curved at the joint and offered a shade for the old men to enjoy their drinks. Ombok left the place to a group of people and Olum’s dad was one of them. Coincidentally, when Olum was looking for a place to set up his bar and restaurant, the people who then owned the joint were looking for a buyer and that is how he acquired it. He has been the proprietor of Duol Kombok since 2013.

Other businesses
Since Olum still owned the entertainment equipment, he would lease it for events and to other clubs as a side hustle but eventually, he realized that his bar and restaurant could still offer several other services that would go hand in hand with the entertainment equipment. That would be organizing events, and providing a full package of services including catering, entertainment and facilitation of other necessary material.
“This realization has been a great score as outside catering is more profitable than just running the club,” he says. Most of the events that Duol Kombok organizes and facilitates include : weddings and breakfast, luncheons and dinners for organisations. “So far we have worked with many organisations including: Childline Kenya, KAWI, Geothermal Development, KETRACO, Nuclear, Gor Mahia, and Phone Expres.”
In addition to organizing events, Duol Kombok has its own initiatives in forms of events which bring people together to enjoy music, and culinary fun. Examples of these are parties which were dubbed: Sunsplash, Lakeside Connection and Black Bit.
To facilitate this, Duol Kombok, has six permanent employees and hires casuals whenever the need arises.
Olum points out that this line of business requires one to be focused and informed. “One has to know the services he or she is focusing on, besides hiring a team and training its members on how to meet the demands of the customers,” he says.
At Duol Kombok, Olum has maintained the traditional standards of the joint which keeps the customers loyal. “We try as much as possible to make our food natural but delicious,” says a confident Olum.
The famous joint offers a variety of assortments, majorly nyamachoma, accompanied by other main meals and drinks. “We have named our meals creatively and our customers know them by name.” he jokes.
The place has come to be a famous fun place for the young people especially during the weekends as they convene to watch soccer while enjoying their drinks. On regular basis, Olum has organized live bands performances to keep the customers entertained especially during the holidays and weekends.

Challenges in this business
Working in the hospitality industry especially operating a bar comes with its own challenges. As Olum points out, security is a major issue in this business and it is only wise to have a good rapport with the security personnel. “In case of any ugly incident, the police, or the county government should not be beyond reach in order to arrest it,” he advises.
Another challenge is the issuance of many licences. “The margins of operating a bar and restaurant are relatively low, and to make the matters worse, policies have us over-licensed and this cost of business is pushing people to the neighbouring countries,” he laments.
Olum however admits that diversifying the service offering is a good strategy of raising more revenue.

Having ventured into event planning, Olum is intending to purchase facilities that come with organizing events such as tents, furniture, and sound equipment. “As at now we are hiring these facilities but plans are underway to purchase our own, which will make our services more profitable,” he says.
“I also plan to expand the space and have meeting rooms that are well fitted,” he concludes.