San Valencia Restaurant in Nairobi has been in the news recently after Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopas Mailu ordered its closer blaming it for the cholera incident at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) that saw several people including two Cabinet Secretaries.
The move, which the management of the San Valencia Restaurants and Corporate Caterers threatened to bring down an establishment that has been serving the who is who in the country. It counts State House among its clients.
Hardly a week or two goes without spotting the San Valencia team on site providing catering services to institutions, corporate bodies and government. Outside catering has enhanced the company’s profile as a market leader.; Besides running world-class restaurants the company also provides event logistics and industrial catering for leading institutions such as KCB, Total and AMREF.
Recently the company took over the management of Valencia Museum inside the National Museum of Kenya, hoping to turn it around and serve local and foreign tourists.
The outsourced services in particular industrial catering may be the main reason behind the exponential growth of the company, but that is not where it all started. The 50-year old business mogul who began his schooling in a local primary school in Meru County, before proceeding to Nkubu and Ikuu high schools for his O and A level secondary education, founded San Valencia in 1992 as a restaurant located at Anniversary Towers ground floor.
Under the name Silver Spoon, the hotel targeted working people in the offices around that place for business lunches. It was rebranded in 2005 to its current name, Anniversary Restaurant, a move towards setting new and incredibly high standards for the company. Now in its 20th year of operations, Anniversary Restaurant remains one of the most well kept secrets in the city with a garden setting, and alluring ambience.
Behind the success of this group of companies is an astute businessman. Famous for his exploits in motor rallying, Phineas Kimathi is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of San Valencia Restaurants and Corporate caterers, a firm with few equals in the competitive and evolving hospitality market.
Kimathi, who studied at the Kenya Utalii College, from where he received a scholarship to study for a higher Diploma in Hotel and Catering Management at the Greenwich College London in 1986.
After exemplary performance at the Greenwich College, Kimathi got the rare opportunity of working with Debenham Chain Stores and Trust House Forte in London for one year. He returned to Kenya in 1987 and became assistant manager at the Pan Afric Hotel in Nairobi between 1987 and 1990. He also worked for Kilaguni tourists resort from where he resigned to go to private business with a handful of faithful workers. Today San Valencia is a big employer with over 350 personnel, by far surpassing many SMEs enroute to major league of the hospitality industry.
His foray into entrepreneurship saw him establish one of the first hotel and catering consultancy services in Kenya in 1990. “We worked on several projects financed by reputable organizations like Barclays Bank, Kenya Commercial Bank and Kenya Tourist Development Corporation,.”
Today San Valencia has 13 busy outlets in Kenya, the Anniversary Restaurant, Valencia Garden, and Valencia Inn in Mombasa and Kampala.
The Anniversary Restaurant, situated in Nairobi’s fifth tallest building, offers a blend of African and continental cuisine in a relaxing atmosphere complemented by the soothing and comforting background melodies.
Valencia Gardens, their second establishment on Riara Road in Lavington is described by Kimathi as the ultimate melting spot of cultures where diverse tastes and premium services are readily available.
In Mombasa, the company owns The Valencia Inn, which was opened last year. The Valencia Inn is causing a wave and niche in the competitive coastal hospitality and catering industry circuit by offering high quality in-house catering services in the coastal city.
As the country’s tourism stakeholders look at promoting domestic tourism, Kimathi says Valencia Inn is already setting the pace. It charges affordable rates that they hope will help in attracting domestic tourists. A single room goes for Ksh4,987.19 (US$48) and double Ksh5,610.59 (US$54) compared to the region’s average occupancy rate of Sh8,208.09 (US$79) per room.
Going by their dominance in the outsourced catering services business, you would be forgiven for using San Valencia as a synonym for these services.
The year 2006 marked a milestone for San Valencia as they catered for 20,000 shareholders who attended the KenGen inaugural Annual General Meeting (AGM), the first biggest AGM ever held in Kenya at the Moi International Sports Center Kasarani.
San Valencia has continued providing catering services for thousands of guests attending different meetings, conferences, exhibitions and annual general meetings. Some of the events they have handled include the Ministry of Energy and National Conference in 2008, the Kenya We Want Conference, Scan Group AGM and numerous of other AGMs.
San Valencia has navigated through complex catering services by undertaking some herculean tasks such as the the state funeral of the Late vice president Wamalwa Kijana and Goffrey Parpai in Kitale and Loitoktok respectively.
When dignitaries come calling, San Valencia is always at hand to serve them and this roll of honour is topped by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Most big conferences at KICC are handled by San Valencia Hospitality.
On the social side San Valencia has been a co-sponsor of the last four consecutive Tusker Project Fame (TPF) shows, the biggest music talent development projects in East Africa. Its CRS programmes includes talent development, with the Yoga brothers ball juggling into the Guinness Book of Record being a standout. The company also established the first rally school in Kenya in 2009.
By 2009, San Valencia had surpassed the 100,000 meals benchmark. The company had developed experience and a reputation of excellence in corporate catering.
“Besides outside catering, we also provide splendid and superior in-house catering services. The hotel has diversified its services to include broad range of clients drawn from different classes and with varied tastes,” Kimathi says.
To solidify their position in the market in the wake of incoming competition, Kimathi says San Valencia organises and provides free venue search, venue liaison and negotiation, entertainment, design and distribution, transport and logistics, and much more to prospective event holders.
Kimathi holds that competition is not about copying, it is about innovation.