Interview with Fatou Njie

My Magazine 2022/05
6 min
Gambian female entrepreneur with unique ideas, Fatou Njie, presents a strong pilar in Gambian business, and at the same time, a gentle soul who cares for fellow Gambians, especially women and girls.

Returning home from abroad and leaving the hotel industry might not be her original plan. Still, while travelling, working and living abroad, Fatou Njie realised that she could return to The Gambia and use all her knowledge and experiences to make a change in the country. 

Focusing on health and nutrition, she first opened Manna Bakery & Café in Kololi (former Dream park). It was established first of its kind in The Gambia, offering a wide variety of nutritious, healthy meals, vegan-friendly alternatives, great coffee, mixed grains loaf & mixed seed loaf, salads, smoothies, and so much more! 

 At the end of January, Fatou Njie opened a Phenomenal Women wellness centre that focuses on fitness, nutrition, and care of the women in The Gambia.

We wanted to explore more about her and her story as she is a role model for every woman. 

To get started, could you tell us when and why you started working in hospitality? 

I started working in the hospitality industry in 2005, and whiles I was working, I was going to hotel school to complete my diploma. I was looking for a career path that I would get bored with early and love. With the options available, hospitality was the closest. 

How was it to work for Sheraton, one of the world-famous hotel chains? 

It was fun, and we were well trained to the best standard and full of opportunities. I was lucky to have cross-training with all the departments in the hotel, which gave me a strong background on how a hotel operates. 

You have been Director of Revenue Management at Sheraton Tajikistan. From where is the passion for finance coming from? 

Revenue management is a combination of finance, sales and marketing. I had worked in the finance department for a couple of years; also, I always loved numbers and the fact that you can work quietly, so Revenue management was the perfect career path for me then. I still loved it; the mid-month and month-end deadline reports to predict how a hotel will perform in the next day, next week, next month, next year, and three years to come was cool. The entire operations of the hotel rely on that information you give every day, from the kitchen and housekeeping to the engineering department.

How did you come up with the idea for Manna Bakery?

My husband and I love bread, and he is from Canada, where bagel is famous. We thought, why not have bagels in The Gambia and all the other bread we discovered during our travels. 

Where are you getting ideas for all this variety of bread, pastries and smoothies? 

Most of the ideas are from the things we loved to eat and our travels.

Do you have the challenge of getting all ingredients in The Gambia? 

Yes, of course, like many business owners in the Gambia, we ended up outsourcing some of our ingredients.

Traditional recipes for Wonjo, Baobab, Tamarind juices, etc., contain sugar (sometimes a lot). Your juices are sugar-free. Is it challenging to get customers for that?

Not really, our customers understand what we are selling to them, at first they are surprised. 

Are you also baking for other companies? Where else can we find Manna bakery's products? 

We supply supermarkets at Discount, Target, Rightchoice, My supermarket, Alvihag, and all around the Senegambia highway.

What do you do to keep the high-quality standard?

We use the best products in the market for our bread.

Was your decision to offer a healthy food menu based on the demand on the market, or you wanted to create the trend? 

We want Gambians to start looking at what they eat - not just to fill their stomach but to benefit their body. Healthy can be tasty.

What are the future plans for Manna? 

Working hard to keep our standards and our customers satisfied.

You opened the first and only wellness centre for only women in The Gambia. Can you please share more info about how it all began? 

I used to go to this place the time I was in Tajikistan; only women would come for workouts, women from 65 going down. It was fun and powerful; they will share and support each other. I said that is what we need in The Gambia. Also, women of all ages would go to the salon to care for themselves; they took time for themselves. How often do we do that for ourselves? That is why we opened Phenomenal Women for women to take care of themselves from the inside out. 

Where do you see Phenomenal Women in 5 years? 

Maintaining our services and keeping our clients happy by going through the journey of wellness with them. 

You are working with many professional female instructors. Do you also offer personal training? How does that work? 

Yes, I work with many female trainers; they are Gambians and mothers too. We have a personal training session; we offer passes, and you can choose your time with a trainer; all that information is available at Phenomenal Women. 

What are the most popular group classes so far? 

Cardio, Zumba, TRX and Strength.

The company is very diverseHow do you take care of all your employees, their training and their ability to create a friendly working atmosphere? 

We employed from schools, and we train them as the management to our standard and we follow-up, and also we get feedback from customers, especially the not good. Once we know, we find out how we can do better and make sure we don't repeat the mistake again. Everyone working for Manna and Phenomenal knew that our number one motor is to respect one another, from the cleaning lady to management, knowing that we all contribute to the business's success.

Does the current global situation continue to impact your business going forward into this year and beyond? Do you have any concerns? 

Yes, of course, and since we opened during Covid, we have not really experienced a good flow of the customers yet.

In your opinion, how much does your company take part in changing The Gambia for the better?

I think we are bringing more awareness of wellness to the Gambians, and also coming back home to invest in my own country and giving jobs to 25 plus Gambians will reduce the unemployment rate and bring new skills for young Gambians who have not had the opportunity to travel outside the country to learn something new.

Leading such an important business requires much responsibility and devotion. How do you cope with stress? How did you find work/life balance?

I have dedicated employees, we work together so well, and when we have a problem, we find a solution together. My husband is like my therapist; I talk to him about everyday challenges and success, he supports me, and I have a lot of good and honest people around me.

Besides your manager post at the companies, you're involved in giving back to the community. How did you find yourself in this position?

They say if you have, give, and if you know, then teach. I have been giving back since I was young, and I just continue to share with people.

Manna Bakery & Café

Manna Bakery & Cafe established first of its kind in the Gambia offering wide variety of nutritious and healthy meals....
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Phenomenal Women

Phenomenal Women is a women’s centre that focuses on your fitness, nutrition, and care. They intend to offer all women, but especially mature women,...
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