Ms. Barbara Baeta, Founder and Owner of Flair Catering Services – My journey

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For those of who have often been greeted on Saturday mornings by an array of cars along Tito Avenue and wondered where the party is, it’s at Flair! A sweet little lady with a deep passion and finesse for domestic management named Ms. Barbara Baeta established Flair Catering Services in 1968. She started her business from the basement of a relative’s home and by the Grace of God—forty-six years later—owns one of the most renowned and trusted catering services in Accra today. Flair is located in the prime area of Cantonments, which has allowed it to be a popular location for many of Accra’s esteemed celebrations. Not only does Flair offer its services for State Banquets and top Diplomatic events, but Ms. Baeta has extended her arm to young and enthusiastic individuals willing to tread her path by offering training services as well.

Ms. Barbara grew up in a happy, loving and supportive home as the eldest child to the late Reverend Professor Christian and Mrs. Victoria Baeta. Her family was modest. Reverend Professor Christian was the Minister of the Presbyterian Church so there never really was a lot of money at home, but there was an overflow of love and togetherness. She spent her early days in Keta and Ho and attended Keta and Ho Presbyterian School. In 1950, an aunt—Justice Annie Baeta Jiagge—was coming to Accra and brought Barbara along to keep her company. She found a school for her at Accra Girls and from then went onto Achimoto School, completed her A-Levels in England and finally to Glasgow College of Domestic Science in Scotland where she trained. She had always followed her mother around and had developed a keen interest in cooking, sewing and virtually anything to do with the household. Her parents recognized she was not fond of Mathematics, Latin and the likes but supported her interests wholeheartedly. It was of no surprise that she decided to study Hotel, Institutional and Catering Management in Glasgow.

As a school requirement, she had to work for three months so she did her attachment in a small hotel in Wales. The owners treated her so well and she learnt so much from them. Her bosses were extremely supportive and provided her with everything she needed to make sure she was comfortable. They had her best interests at heart and schooled her in all aspects of this trade so that she would be well versed and full of first hand experience. In order to better appreciate her craft she started from the bottom and worked as a barmaid. The normal practice was that guests would buy the barmaid a drink; in order to support her, her boss made a box and told everyone who wished to buy her a drink to put the money in the box. At the end of the 3 months Barbara had made enough money and asked her parents not to send her money for the next 3 months. She also worked as a bedroom maid and a kitchen helper. The hotel was in a rural area so they grew vegetables behind the building and every morning she would have to pick and clean the vegetables, after that she would milk the cows because the guests expected fresh milk. In the winter when temperatures fell below freezing point she still had to complete her tasks and to the amusement of the locals she did so with her gloves on. Barbara was ready to learn and no matter the circumstances she always did what was expected of her.

After training in Glasgow around the age of 21, her parents were proud of her accomplishments and wanted to treat her. They asked what she would like and she said she wanted to travel around Europe. Although from a modest family her parents obliged and arranged to send her to France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Vienna just learning how to cook. She learnt various dishes all through Europe after which she worked in a teacher training college in Gypsy Hill in Surrey for a year. This was another school requirement and after completing went back to Glasgow to receive her Diploma.

With Diploma in hand, Barbara returned home to Ghana on the 4th of January 1960 as green as green grass can be. When she got home, she did not have a job waiting for her. Luck shone upon Barbara when Irene Anderson, then headmistress of Aburi girls, invited her to work because one of her teachers had gone on maternity leave and she needed a Home Science teacher at the school for a year. She enjoyed her job so much and from there went on to the Ministry of Health to serve as a catering officer. She started off at Korlebu Teaching Hospital (Korlebu) and then moved to Kumasi. She was truly dedicated to her job and would go to work at 4AM every morning so that breakfast would be ready by 6AM without fail. However, a dicey situation sent the innocent Ms.Baeta fleeing back to the safety of Accra. A high profile gentleman named Nii Bonne, Alata Mantse was staying at the hospital and one morning a lady brought in a bowl of Koko for him. The hospital had a no food policy so Barbara was hesitant to deliver the meal. She had a bad feeling about it and so called in her deputy to help her decide on what they would do. As they opened the Koko a dreadful smell filled the room prompting them to pour it down the sink. The meal had been laded with Arsenic poison and before their very eyes it melted the sink as it went down the drain. Filled with fear and panicking for her own life she got on the bus the very next day and came back home to Accra. She returned to Korlebu and worked there for a little while.

Then the YWCA was built and they were looking for someone to run it. The British sent an expert to come and help set it up. Mrs. Bavin arrived as Barbara’s boss. After eighteen months of training Ms. Baeta took over as Director for Accra, Tafo and Kumasi. She worked hard and developed a very popular restaurant. She run all three restaurants and would personally drive to Kumasi stopping at Tafo for the night to check on operations. She remained Director and run the restaurants for a couple of years. The YMCA was extremely busy and allowed Ms. Baeta to cater for diplomatic services, households, and businesses among others. Due to her experience and expertise the Government of Ghana asked her to organize a Ghana Day at the Expo 67 that was being held in Montreal—Canada 1967. Courageously she took up the challenge. So with two students who helped with washing up, she rented a kitchen and single handedly cooked for 500 people!! The public was amazed. Everyone loved the food and her story was all over the newspapers. Suddenly it dawned on her, if she could successfully cook for 500 people in Canada then surely, she could work for herself back home! Barbara decided to speak to her parents on her return. She had decided she did not want any help and made a deal with her parents. She had six months to produce results and if she was not successful she would be sent out to look for a job. Elated at the opportunity for endless possibilities, Ms. Baeta took the jewelry her grandmother had given her for her 25th birthday to Barclays Bank as collateral for 200 Cedis. She knew she had to start from somewhere and was ready to pay any price. The banker, Mr. Brown, had known Barbara since she was 12 years old. He refused to take her jewellery and guaranteed her himself. Mr. Brown gave her three months to pay back the loan and with her 200 Cedis in hand Barbara gave her dream a name…she called it Flair. This was only the beginning.

Whilst working at the YMCA Barbara had done an order for some Americans celebrating their Independence Day. Impressed with her professionalism and quality of work they searched for and found her on their return to Ghana the following year. At the time, her uncle Eric had a house with a basement and offered it to her as a working space. With her few belongings she quickly moved in and began to cook. They placed a screen in the room so that one side was the cooking area and the other her bed. From her room that held a stove, sink and bed, she completed the order and needless to say the Americans were mesmerized. They paid her a dollar for each person, which amounted to 100 dollars. This was a fortune! Barbara took 30 Cedis out of the lot bought a bottle of Champagne and a few groceries, and celebrated the birth of Flair with her.

Every afternoon, Barbara would drive around Accra looking for a place to rent. One day she saw two little houses along the Ring Road. She soon realized that her friend was the Lawyer representing the company that owned the houses and he was happy to help her out. He asked her if she could manage a three-month advance and since that was about all she could fork out she was extremely glad. So with the balance from the Americans, she rented the house and moved in with her sister Stephanie and mother, Victoria. They all slept on the floor for about a month with rolled up clothes as bedding. Barbara had only one girl—Sophia—to help out with orders and gradually Flair grew. One day she was driving along Tito Avenue in Cantonments and spotted a low, waterlogged land. With a deep conviction in her heart she knew that this would be the home of Flair. Everyone tried to dissuade her from buying this land. They were convinced it was no good and a total waste of money. What they would soon realize was that Barbara had a vision that allowed her to see far past the rejected land. She borrowed a sizeable amount of money from National Insurance Bank (NIB) to build her dream and in 1972 Ms. Baeta moved in. The land was divided up into a workspace and living quarters and for twenty-five years she lived in one room with a bathroom, tiny kitchen and living area. She lived under these conditions and never complained so she could focus on building her business. Today, she is a well-respected and recognized entrepreneur.

Ms. Barbara Baeta believes that she has been blessed immensely and has come this far by the help of friends and institutions, and most importantly the grace of God. This grace coupled with hard work, self application and sacrifice has succeeded in making Flair the star it is today. The determination to realize a vision led to many sacrifices and in her early days of Flair Barbara wore a uniform all the time to save the few good clothes she had. Grown on a foundation of deep passion, Flair is now 46 years old and still going strong. Although Flair will remain a small business, Ms. Baeta intends to build a school so she can continue to nurture young ones in her quest to raise Ghanaian hospitality standards to rival those around the world. Concerned greatly about the health and well being of the nation, she is also putting a hygiene program together to ensure that caterers provide quality services at all levels.

Everything is worth doing if you do it well. We must have a vision and always be prepared to work hard. We must cultivate a habit of saving and remain true to our culture in order to stay relevant and unique. Young people must realize that only through sweat and tears do individuals truly attain and retain success. We must remember to dream, soak our minds with the necessary knowledge and training and be ready to work at it. Success can neither be obtained overnight or with a magic trick; it comes from a life of dedication and toil.

 

credit – stratcomm-africa.com

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