Aleem Ladak, The Big Five Breweries Limited Director
Age: 35 years
Primary School – Peponi (Nairobi, Kenya)
High School – Hillcrest Secondary School (Nairobi, Kenya)
University – McGill University (Montreal, Canada) – Undergraduate Degree in Food Science & Technology
VLB Brewing & Malting Institute (Berlin, Germany) – Postgraduate Brew Master Certificate in Brewing & Distilling
McAuslan Brewery Montreal – Shift Brewer; Warsteiner Brewery, Germany; Heineken Brewery, Netherlands – Brewer; BRARUDI, Burundi – Brewer; Nigerian Breweries, Nigeria – Quality Controller; Sierra Leone Brewery Ltd – Technological Controller; Consolidated Brewery, Nigeria – Technological Controller; Big Five Breweries Ltd – Managing Director & Brew Master.
You might not know The Big Five Breweries, but Iâ€™m certain you know of Brew Bistro Lounge on Ngong Road.
Itâ€™s the quintessential upper-middle class haunt for the-freshly-brewed-beer thirsty and the hungry for uppity cuisine or where â€“ as they at Brew Bistro say- â€œthe primal instincts come out to play.â€
Brew Bistro Lounge has maintained its momentum (and reputation) since it opened its doors in 2009. Now its captain, Aleem, realises the need to reinvent itself not only to maintain its clientele but also to keep ahead of the pack.
So apart from brewing their own beer in their premises, they have introduced whacky but fun stuff like the Burger Challenge on Tuesdays where folk compete to eat a 1.5kg burger.
Soon, they will be launching a wine cafÃ©. Beyond re-invention, they have set up a scholarship programme (Oktoberfest Scholarship and Mentorship) that is so far seeing some 20 poor students through high school right up to university.
We meet in his office, at the back, which is up a flight of metallic stairs, past steel doors and bored security guards. Reminds me a bit of the TV series The Sopranos.
Before we get into the stuff that editors love, do Kenyans tip in restaurants and bars? Iâ€™m very curious.
I wouldnâ€™t say for sure, but I think so, yes. My waiters and waitresses might be in a better position to tell you this. But we have a service charge on our prices, soâ€¦(shrugs). But I tip myself whenever I go out, the standard 10% or 15%.
Did you wake up one day and say, â€œI want to brew beer and start a restaurant that people will like being seen in?â€
There is a lot of family influence in starting this business. I grew up in that kind of family. My dad was a professional chef. My brother is a wine sommelier. Iâ€™m a brewer by profession and I worked for years in Canada and Europe where the concept of draft brewery is quite prominent.
When I came back home, I saw a gap in the industry that I wanted to fill, the draught beer market is still evolving.
So you did a Masterâ€™s degree in brewing. Iâ€™m trying to wrap my head around that.
(Smiles) I did a postgraduate in Brewing and Distilling at the VLB Brewing and Malting Institute in Berlin, Germany. Yes. Iâ€™m a master brewer.
And itâ€™s from that experience that we have fashioned our own beers here to combine the best ingredients and traditional brewing methods as per the Reinheitgebot (German Purity Law) to produce beer that is 100 per cent malt with absolutely no preservative. So we serve more than just beer and good food, we offer an experience.
If you were to have a meal (and one of your beers) with one person in the world, who would that be?
Seriously? Your wife works here with you, am I right?
(Laughs) Yes, why not? I married her to spend the rest of our lives together, so why not? And yes, she works here with me; she is the one in charge of our marketing, the face of the company. Iâ€™m always in the background, taking care of the back office. On any given day, she would be the one having this interview, not me.
How is it working with your wife? When do you decide what is home and what is work?
Although we work together we donâ€™t really spend all that much time together. But itâ€™s obviously very challenging to get that balance of home and work because as the one running marketing, she always has these ideas that canâ€™t be defined to the normal working hours. But indeed one of the challenges is balancing family and work.
Are you a good father?
Yes. I am. I have a one-and-half-year-old son, a fun guy. Iâ€™m a good father because Iâ€™m there whenever he needs me. I want to imagine that I have managed well to find time to spend with him. Family is very important to me and if I had to leave work now because my family needed me, I would drop everything.
What do you do on your down time?
I donâ€™t have much of a down time. (Laughs). But whenever I get a breather, I will spend it with family.
Ok, whatâ€™s in your bucket list?
I think there is still a lot of opportunity to grow this business, so one of the things Iâ€™d like to do is grow the business. Open a much bigger breweryâ€¦
Outside work, what would you want to do; BASE jump, para glide, visit a primitive tribe in some forest in Asia, do something crazyâ€¦that sort of stuff.
(Laughs) I think I have done many crazy things in my time. I have also travelled extensively to Central Africa Republic, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Canada, US, Europeâ€¦I have been to very many places and did a bit of that extreme sport. So for now, I just want to liveâ€¦
Do you ever drink on the job?
Well, not really. Maybe a beer when Iâ€™m entertaining guests, but generally, I donâ€™t drink while working.
What is your greatest fear?
Failure. I have a team of 75 here who all see this business as a source of livelihood. I wouldnâ€™t want to fail them and myself if this didnâ€™t work.
When you come back â€“ the after life â€“ what are you coming back as?
(Laughs) First I donâ€™t believe in reincarnation. But for the sake of argument, I think I will come back as me, and do what I have been doing.