At age 10, Fred Apaloo started his culinary career by preparing his favourite dish, pizza, experimentally putting vegetables and cheese on a sandwich in the oven. In 2015, Fred decided to proudly present all of his range of favourite dishes at an extensive brunch for friends and family. It made his career take off. Today, Fred is one of the most promising entrepreneurs in Ghana, running his own ‘boutique-style’ catering business ‘Villa Grace’.
At age 28, Accra-born Fred Apaloo – founder and owner of Villa Grace – is proud to be one of 30 young African business people featured on Forbes’ Africa ‘Under 30 Business’ list. He has built his small empire after becoming locally famous for the top-quality Sunday brunches he organised. First to family and friends, later to paying customers at exclusive events with strictly limited guest lists.
Food is self-expression
“I took an interest in food at a very young age. I loved to eat and still do. Also, food to me is a creative way of self-expression. I don’t have any professional culinary training”, says Fred. “Cooking is my craft and my gift. I learn and improve my skills everyday by reading, watching and practicing.” Fred started watching and practicing as a kid, staying with his grandmother Grace. “Her natural culinary skills were unmatched. I remember spending numerous hours in her kitchen; watching first, then assisting in many cooking adventures.”
Fred’s passion for hospitality led to going to university in Boca Raton (Florida), to an undergraduate degree in Hospitality Management, and subsequently a Masters of Business Administration with a specialization in marketing. After having returned to Accra from Miami, Fred stayed at his parents’ house and had time for new experiments with food. “I cooked my food, plated it, photographed it and then ate it. And each time my goal was to impress myself more and more.”
It was the sampling of Fred’s culinary achievements at private dinner parties and at brunch events in the elaborate orchard garden of his aunt’s home that made him locally famous. He introduced Brunch Friends, Genesis Brunch and Champagne Brunches to Accra’s in-crowds and made sure photos were widely spread via his Instagram account. “I mainly did that because I wanted my friends in the US to realize that all of Africa is not what it’s portrayed to be on television. Instagram – and word of mouth – have been the only form of publicity I have used. I am very pleased with what it has done for the brand. I am working on launching a website soon that will hopefully reach a larger audience.”
A special lunch, brunch or dinner
Today, ‘Villa Grace by Fred Apaloo’ is now a boutique and lifestyle brand with a specialization in culinary. With only a handful of staff, Fred made it the firm to hire when your business wants to host a launch party for a new product or service. Call ‘Villa Grace’ when a crowd of 10 to 200 people that needs to be treated to a special lunch, brunch or dinner, ranging from local Ghanaian dishes to more exclusive international dishes. And even Fred’s most popular dish: pancetta macaroni and cheese.
Attention to detail
“I basically cater for smaller and intimate events and audiences – to thoroughly focus on attention to detail.” Building the business in the environment of Accra has its challenges, such as sourcing ingredients. “It can be difficult to find exotic ingredients for my dishes. Thanks to good relationships with local stores and international suppliers we are able to import ingredients.” Another issue is finding the right indoor venues in Accra for certain events, to be hosted by Villa Grace.
What is your next step? “I want to have my own chain of restaurants and indoor event spaces. It is my dream to host events there and to build the dream further. To build Villa Grace to a flourishing business that stems from my true passion.” Although his family and friends have backed Fred on every step of the way, the young entrepreneur credits his grandma Grace for her influence. I still refer to her recipe book often. It’s old school and handwritten, I love it.”