In Kericho, Kenya, amidst rolling hills of vibrant green tea plantations, stands Sunshine Hotel Limited.
This hotel has welcomed dignitaries, politicians, and high-profile guests, including former President Uhuru Kenyatta, President William Ruto, and Raila Odinga.
However, what truly distinguishes Sunshine Hotel isn’t its prestigious clientele or strict booking policies but the remarkable journey of its founder, James Mwangi, a man who defied all odds to build an empire from the ground up.
James Mwangi’s journey began in the 1960s in Nakuru Bahati when his formal education came to an abrupt end.
His teacher sent him home to fetch a hefty school fee of Sh 20 – a sum his family could not afford.
As a result, Mwangi was thrust into the world of manual labor at a young age, earning a meager wage of 50 cents a month while tending to goats in his neighborhood.
Despite these early setbacks, Mwangi’s passion for the hospitality industry continued to burn brightly.
In 1989, he embarked on a humble entrepreneurial journey by opening a small eatery in Kericho.
The startup capital was meager, raised through the collaboration of two friends, but the venture faced numerous challenges. Customers left, and Mwangi’s friends abandoned the business, discouraged by the lack of profits.
However, Mwangi remained undeterred. He honed his culinary skills, overcame countless obstacles, and gradually won over the hearts of his customers.
His journey was marked by challenges such as mastering cooking techniques and managing unscrupulous suppliers. Despite facing each hurdle, Mwangi persevered.
His entrepreneurial journey began with a kilo of meat and flour, and his first customer was a mechanic.
However, the feedback was far from positive, as the food was deemed inedible.
Undiscouraged, Mwangi managed to convince other customers to give his food a try. Within weeks, he improved his skills and, in his own words, became “as good a cook as his father – Mr. Joseph Kuria.”
Though he struggled with chapatis and mandazis initially, Mwangi sought guidance from a friend named Juma.
Juma showed him once how to make the dough, but Mwangi had to figure out the rest on his own. He persevered, learning from experience and practice.
As the business grew, Mwangi faced new challenges, including non-paying customers and the need to employ a cook named Kennedy. The addition of Kennedy to the team brought success, and the business began to boom.
In a significant turn of events, customers from Nairobi visited Sunshine Hotel and ordered an omelet. In his naivety, Mwangi served scrambled eggs, leading to criticism from the customers who berated him for his lack of understanding and education.
By 1991, Mwangi had generated enough revenue to employ more staff and purchase his first car, a pick-up, from the Town Mayor, John Kauria.
An investor named Benjamin Tirop was impressed by Mwangi’s work and invited him to lease commercial apartments at Tengecha Lane.
Seeing the potential, Mwangi agreed and relaunched Sunshine Hotel, refining their menu and offering guest room services.
Through the years, the hotel has grown to dominate Kericho’s hospitality industry.