Jane: I am here on behalf of My Gambia and it’s a privilege to be interviewing Mr. Bass, a Gambian entrepreneur. Also, today is International Entrepreneur Day and we want to wish all the entrepreneurs out there and people starting their businesses, all the best and we hope that as your business progresses, you will have a lot of support and also make a lot of income out of your business. So, thank you Mr. Bass for being here with us today, we are really privileged to be knowing more about your business. I learned today that Happy Corner is 20 years old. How did come about bringing Happy Corner to life?
Mr. Bass: Thank you so much for having me. I did start with renting bicycles. From there on I shifted to a bar and a restaurant that is a very famous place within this area. It has been almost 20 years and as I just said, it was bicycle rental at the beginning, then it gradually developed to a bar and a restaurant and become a very famous place. Many times, we are saying that CapePoint is completely dead and most of the people that we are having in this area are always going to Senegambia. I have been telling a lot of my community people my idea. What we could do in order to promote CapePoint in this area is, that whenever there is New Year’s or fireworks and so on, we should do it too. So that all I have added together to make it happen that even within our community when you come to for example New Year’s, people wouldn’t go to Senegambia. All the people within Bakau and other places would all come here and we would have like some sort of a festival. That is what would really make Happy Corner to be a happy corner.
Jane: Wow, that is pretty interesting, happy corner indeed. Do you have any educational background in this field; knowledge about starting the business – or is it part of your passion as well?
Mr. Bass: I did, I went to Saint Augustine and from there I went to Sweden, from there when I came back, I decided to be doing safaris.
Jane: Is Bakau the first location of your business and why did you choose this place?
Mr. Bass: I am born in Bakau and the place where I am here is a place where my mother had a garden. So, all that contributed a lot. This is my town and its my mother’s gardening place, so I also wanted to do something, so that people of Bakau can also benefit and gain something from it.
Jane: So, this place use to be a garden? I could never imagine that.
Mr. Bass: Yes, my mother’s garden, but it was a long time ago. People from ‘Wasulunkunda’ are the people coming here for gardening in the past and my mother is from ‘Wasulunkunda’ from the Sidibeh family.
Jane: This is a beautiful thing. You travelled out, you gained a lot of experience in Sweden and yet still you came back to your own community, using your own mother’s garden to develop something and make the people of your town to be happy, to stay here and celebrate here and make this place what you want it to be. Its really incredible. No matter how much you travel, home is home, it is irreplaceable no matter what. Thank you, Mr. Bass. I think this is a lesson that will go a long way into helping other entrepreneurs. No matter how much you go out and have experience, home is home and you can develop your own business here and help your people.
So why did you choose this name for your business? Happy Corner?
Mr. Bass: It’s the happiest corner around. In fact, the name Happy Corner came from one Danish guy. Well, he called it a biting corner and said that the place is in a very sensitive place to be bitten. So, I rather said no to the biting corner and named it a happy corner instead. One of my Danish friends, initially when I started the place, has has seen the vision of the place and called it a biting corner since any guest that comes around will be bitten straight away (from the snake for example). Then I said no, no, we wouldn’t use Biting but Happy Corner instead, so that is how the name came about.
Jane: When you started 20 years ago, when did you actually written a menu? Did you have the menu written on the board or did you pass it from table to table?
Mr. Bass: I started with the written board but after 5 years we came up with the idea of having menus. I emulated that from my brother who has also been having his own hotel, the CapePoint Hotel, so it was from there the idea came about.
Jane: How and why do you think your business was growing and expanding when you started Happy Corner?
Mr. Bass: In those days to be quite honest, we didn’t have much restaurants within this area and the only restaurants were within hotels. So, most of the guests in the hotels got bored of the hotel, eating hotel’s food all the time. So they decided once in a while they would be coming out and so, gradually, from few tables it has expanded to 60, 70 tables.
Jane: When you first started, it was just the front (one) side? Was it when the business started to expand when you expanded also inside?
Mr. Bass: It was just the front side before coming inside, exactly.
Jane: What is Happy Corner mostly known for?
Mr. Bass: For entertainment; you know people say that, if your are stressed, you come to Happy Corner and you get relieved.
Jane: When you talk about entertainment, what kind of entertainment do you do? Local, musical or what kind?
Mr. Bass: We do all kinds of cultural dance, reggae music, and kumpo; all variety, especially with the African programs to promote my culture as well. I have programs two or three times a week and then there are special days for reggae days.
Jane: If you want reggae music, you come to Happy Corner. You heard from the owner, Happy Corner is a stress reliever, so if you are stressed during the week because so many work and so many things that is going on in your life, come to the Happy Corner and be relieved after the corona period is over. Can you tell us more about tourism over the past 20 years, like in the past 20 years how was tourism and business within this area and today, what is it like?
Mr. Bass: To be quite honest, ten or fifteen years ago, it was the best but it has declined within the last 5 years because of the pandemics, like Ebola and coronavirus. But previously within that 10 to 15 years, our business was exceptional.
Jane: What are the main changes that relate to your business?
The main change lately is closing of the restaurant because of the pandemic. But we are coming back again, as I just say to my employees, in the month of October. As I have said, we are hopeful that success will come back again but it wouldn’t be easy anyway. But then I am also thinking of a plan B for something else, different from the industry I am currently in, that would allow me to maintain the business.
Jane: How has the competition around the area with the tourist affected your business? You have the Sun Beach Hotel, the CapePoint Hotel and other hotels around. What is the competition like? Has it affected your business negatively?
Mr. Bass: In one way or the other, Sun Beach is all-inclusive, bur my brother’s hotel and Ocean Bay are not. But despite the all-inclusive packages, we do have a lot of guests coming out, they get tired of the same food so they will be coming out.
Jane: So, with entertainment programs, do you get more customers?
Mr. Bass: Every time we have entertainment, we have a lot of customers. Each day we don’t have entertainment, we don’t have clients, that is for sure. People would be coming here from Senegambia and other sides because of the entertainment.
Jane: Happy Corner it is. So, what are the biggest challenges you face and how did you overcome the biggest challenges of this restaurant’s business?
Mr. Bass: Well, we have a lot of challenges, for example sometimes you have bad boys and other things but we overcome it because we do have TSU securities around. They also contribute a lot in helping us to see our business going fine, so we don’t have so many problems with bumpsters. But it’s tough though.
Jane: What is the secret to your success? I know some people started a business and in the long run they bankrupted. But Happy Corner started 20 years ago its still going strong. What is the secret?
Mr. Bass: One guy came to me and said: “Mr. Bass, hardly, a Gambian can survive his business for 10 years without getting bankrupt, congratulations!”. My brother always advised me, never take money from the bank. What I normally do is I have Europeans sending me cars from Europe, so I could sell them here, make a little profit and go on. That is how I came up with developing this place. Gradually, until I got where I am today.
Jane: To avoid taking loans from banks, do you do other, side businesses, to support this one?
Mr. Bass: Yes, but it was very tough though, because the dream that I had was to make this place as it is, but I didn’t have enough financials then. People were telling me to go to the bank and take a loan, but I said no. So, thank God, my cars are coming from Europe, from the profit that I have invested, so I don’t have any loans.
Jane: Since today is International Entrepreneurship Day, what words do you have for the young entrepreneurs out there who are doing their best to grow their businesses?
Mr. Bass: What I would advise them is to be patient and take everything in time, gradually, because things don’t always come as planned. But with the motivation, you will get to where you want to be.
Jane: So, your advice is that they take things easy and slow because success doesn’t come overnight; its a progressive thing. And to the people starting for the first time, what will you tell them? When you started your restaurant business, what were the things or the steps you have taken in order to grow to this level?
Mr. Bass: It was very tough, but I was patient and the ambition was there to get where I want to be, gradually, gradually, till I reach where I want to be.
Jane: So, there you have it. If you are an entrepreneur or starting for the first time, just love the business that you are doing. People go into business because there is a lot of money and it doesn’t last because there is no passion. Mr. Bass’ advise is love what you do, be patient and know that success doesn’t come overnight, it takes gradual steps. There are going to be tough days and there are going to happy days. Take it easy, do your best and continue the love that you have to nurture your business until it grows. Thank you very much, this is all what we have for you with Mr. Bass and we hope that at the end of the corona season, business will bloom again and you can come and check out Happy Corner. It’s definitely a beautiful place, has a lot of space and as heard from him, there is always a lot of entertainment, every week. So come out, come and support your Gambian businesses and help the businesses grow. Thank you very much.
Mr. Bass: Thank you so much for coming.
By Jane Gomez