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As a child, she washed dishes in her mum’s restaurant in Benin, now she runs the biggest African restaurant in Germany…

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By Fred Iwenjora
While growing up in the back streets of Oredo, in the ancient city of Benin south south of Nigeria, Juliet Erhunmwunse Wohlgemuth had washed dishes and ran errands in her mother’s makeshift restaurant at Sapele Road park to support her family without an inkling that such services would ever become her main occupation later in life.

Juliet Erhunmwunse Wohlgemuth

Now the mother of two sons has been holding her own, running Treasure African Restaurant, a renowned catering business founded in 2006, situated in a serene environment of the German City of Dusseldorf and reputed to be a must visit by resident Africans and those on transit.

However,   It is also acclaimed to be the African restaurant with the most European audience because aside from Europeans who swarm about to taste Nigerian dishes like Egusi, banga and ogbono soup, it also offers continental dishes.

How did she initiate this venture that is visited by African entertainment and sports stars as well as diplomats and Nigerian leaders possible? How has she managed to excel so far? How does she feel when Europeans ask for Ogbono soup or highly peppered rice and stew? There are several questions to ask her and she was very open and concise in her answers.

What inspired you to start this restaurant seen as one of the biggest African restaurants in Europe?

I always wanted to be self employed. I had also done other businesses but the restaurant business knows me well and I know it too. May be that is the reason it continues to prosper since 2006. In all I think that God’s hand is upon my head. I may not accept that it is the biggest African restaurant in Europe because I have not traveled across Europe to rate the others but I know that in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen where Dusseldorf is situated, Treasure African Restaurant may not be the biggest in size but it is the most equipped, most clean, with most efficient and excellent services. We are the only restaurant in Dusseldorf that offers party services and outside catering.   Most festivals in the state invite us to provide catering services for guests including the provisions of African food. However I know that Treasure Restaurant has the highest German customers. Some of them  ask for Ogbono and egusi soup as they see African customers relishing it.   A lot of them will ask for the regular European cuisine

How challenging has it been in the past years?

The initial challenge was regularizing documents. It was tough. As soon as that was done, problems reduced. The basic challenge now is procurement, meeting demands, excellence service all in all. We serve both African and continental food so, we must deal with the customers of diverse views and cultures. For instance our African customers are dealt with differently because we are Africans while our European customers feel differently.

Did anything prepare you for what you now do?   What memories do you recall of your childhood in Benin?

My mother popularly known as Mama Julie sold food at Sapele park, beside Ubviotor Primary school, Benin City. It was a makeshift restaurant. She did this for like more than fifteen years. As her first daughter, I was so glued to her aprons helping and supporting her in all. I saw her toil hard to raise us. That was why after God blessed me, I begged her to stop the tedious work routine. It was very difficult to stop her but she later yielded.   I learnt a lot from that early beginning which is helping me up till date in my business. There is no much difference because I still do dishes even though some of these thongs are automated here unlike the manual crude systems we did in Benin city. But I must say that all I learnt from her was my basic foundation.   I learnt about cooking, buying materials, being patient as to serve many customers at a go without losing your temper. I also learnt to persevere and be self confident. One may not understand how difficult it is to be serving over ten people all looking for your attention at same time

Could we talk about your early years in Europe…

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Aah, I will recall a very tough entry into Europe but made easier by my loving husband who stood his ground. Let me say here that love took me to Europe. On arrival,   I first started by doing menial cleaning jobs. I later worked as a sales girl in an Afro shop. It was when I got my legal status that I started travelling to France and Switzerland to buy goods for sale from house to house and shop to shop.

It was in 2005 that I took over an Afro shop which was about to be sold. I invested and ran it for a while before  opening Treasure African Restaurant in 2006 and the rest in history. I later closed the Afro shop when the stress became much but the restaurant is still functioning till date. We even added the Treasure Restaurant Christmas party which has been rocking Dusseldorf in the past few years. The Treasure Restaurant Christmas party brings people together at the end of the year for an all night jam. In the past few years, the interest in the end of year event has been encouraging.

Now, tell me a little bit more about this loving husband of yours

He is my destiny helper whom God used to make me accomplish much. Now let me tell you more stories. After my graduation from secondary school, I went to acquire a diploma and did my IT at UTC Benin branch office. That was when traveling out for greener pastures started hovering in my mind. I was soon on my way to Spain led by one man who claimed to know much about Europe. We were many under his guide but got stranded in Gambia when the man disappeared with the money we had paid him. He abandoned us to our fate. I was at the verge of returning to Benin but my parents told me to persevere and hang on. They promised to send  money to me and indeed sent  money for me to either continue to Spain or return to Benin. But not too long after, when I was almost demoralized and thinking of what to do   the man who later became my husband came along to change my path for good. We have two sons, one 17 years and the other 15 years old. .

You must have an interesting love story

Yes .It is my destiny which can be delayed but not denied. I tell anyone who cares to listen to me that love brought me to Germany. I met him when I was almost at the verge of losing hope in Gambia. He was the man of my dreams with all the qualities I wanted in my man. He also told me I was the woman of his dreams. We lived together for about six months before his job contract ended and he took me along to Germany. Before this time, we had already made promises to each other. I was denied Visa at the German Embassy in Gambia. They said I should go to Nigeria for the Visa. So he left for Germany only to return again for me. Still no visa. We boarded a ship to Spain and then a flight to Germany where more immigration problems started. Germany could not wed us because I came without a legal visa. When the heat was on for my deportation, I ran to France where we got married after four months of legal tussle. It was after eight months that the German Embassy in France agreed to give me a family re union visa and I went to meet him. It has been a blissful journey I must confess.

There is this Nigerianness about you that defies explanation. There is a Nigerian flag in the restaurant and your outside catering events would fly the green white and green colours… .how come you are so patriotic about Nigeria?

I can’t tell why but I have my deep love for Nigeria because it is the place of my birth. Despite that I sought and traveled out for greener pastures, my deep love for the country of my birth is still intact and may be even deeper than it used to be. I usually dress up in Nigerian cultural attire just as our work uniform at Treasure is green/white/green top upon white.   I belong to many Nigerian cultural associations and the Nigeria Community in Germany even though I am married to a German.

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