Nigerian Man, Dayo Kusamotu, to Star Kokoro (pretzel) Business in Clifton, Bloomfield, USA
A London-born Bloomfield man raised in Nigeria and educated in the United States, traveled a long path toward his first business, which is slated to open in Clifton next month.
Dayo Kusamotu may not have celebrated his 30th birthday yet, but the young entrepreneur and father of two wastes little time.
During the day, he works in corporate America as a financial analyst with GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical giant that shuttered its Clifton toothpaste plant in 2013.
Soon, however, his nights will involve the operation of transforming fresh dough into warm soft pretzels.
But, the dream of running his own shop seems thousands of miles from where he began.
Kusamotu is a native of England but spent his formative years in his mother’s hometown of Lagos, the most populated city in the West African nation of Nigeria and, at 21 million, the continent’s largest when ranked by metropolitan area.
There he enjoyed childhood treats such as puff puffs – a fried donut-like, flour-based pastry sprinkled with sugar – and efo riro, a stew typically composed of crushed spinach, tomatoes, onions and dried fish.
Academics were a priority for him and, after weighing college opportunities, Kusamotu’s studies took him to the Philadelphia suburbs that surround Rowan University in Gloucester County.
In addition to the many cultural differences and the challenges of a college course load, he fell in love with a “hot, fresh” baked treat alien to him before arriving in the U.S.
He would attain his MBA in finance from Syracuse University before returning to the Garden State. In 2015, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
When he moved to Bloomfield in 2007, where Kusamotu still lives today, his search for similar soft pretzels typically ended with “overpriced products” at shopping malls. The inconvenience struck him.
In the fallout of the 2009 financial crisis, he was among many employees laid off by Express Scripts in Franklin Lakes. The volatility and bleak nature of the job market sparked a desire to control his own destiny.Combining his appreciation for the salted baked bread with his business smarts, Kusamotu believed he had found a lucrative niche within the densely populated region that is North Jersey.
“I was looking for a place where I could have an emotional attachment,” he recalled. “Being that Clifton is one town over but is where I take my kids for movies or shopping centers, I do a lot in Clifton. I wondered how I could bring the experience to more people in a great town. That’s what drove my thinking.”
Positive feedback from city residents and neighboring businesses only validated his theory.
But, ahead of him laid a strenuous process.
Philly Pretzel Factory, founded in 1998, began franchising in 2004 and today boasts more than 170 locations around the nation.
Kusamotu contacted the parent company and, following an application process, traveled to Philadelphia for an interview which included interactions with co-founder Dan DiZio, president Marty Ferrill as well as the chain’s marketing director and real estate head.
“I gave my background, which included zero experience in the food industry. So, I appear to be this young guy but I’m ambitious,” said Kusamotu, whose pitch centered around his contention that North Jersey is “big but small” due to its large populations packed into marginal areas of land. “You can drive certain roads for a few minutes and might’ve crossed three towns.”
“When we’re looking at a franchisee, it’s essentially a business partner so we value passion and dedication. They have to convince us,” Ferrill said. “A lot of people don’t make it but, with Dayo, we all weighed in and he was a slam dunk. His drive will help us grow our brand and he will be a great ambassador.”
The company president credited the freshness and simplicity of the product – water, flour, yeast – as a cornerstone of its success.
The 11,000-square-foot Clifton store, formerly a hair and beauty spa, is slated to open across the street from city hall by the end of July. Regular pretzels will be sold at three for $3, party trays will be available and specialty items will include pretzels stuffed with cheesesteak or hot dogs.
The 29-year-old will have an assistant store manager but plans to be “closely involved” and tending to the business throughout the work week.
The Clifton store continues a strategic move into the North Jersey market with the recent addition of a Livingston pretzel factory as well as a Nutley location opening eight months ago.
When the doors open this summer, Kusamotu will not have a business partner to lean on. At least, not one he can ask for financial support.
“I took this on by myself,” he said. “But I’m a Christian and I believe the idea to come up with this venture was not just my doing. God inspired something in me so God is my partner in this.”