Founded in 2012 by brothers Ngozi and Chijoke Dozie, Neo has opened seven coffee shops in Lagos, kick-starting a high-end cafe scene.
Students slurp lattes while taking advantage of the Wi-Fi connection. Business people rush in for an expresso on their way to work. A man and a woman sit in couches, talking politics over frothy cappuccino. You could be in New York, London or Paris, but this is Lagos, and Neo is Nigeria’s first chain of high-end coffee shops. It’s aim? To bring quality coffee back to Africa.
The world’s first beans came from Ethiopia, and Africa is still one of its biggest producers, yet most people start their day with low-grade, imported dissolvable coffee. The Dozie brothers decided it was time Africans got to taste the best roasted beans, those that are usually exported. Neo takes its name from “new” in Latin and “gift” in Tswana, the language spoken in Botswana. The coffees are all Arabica varieties from Rwanda, where the first coffee bush was planted in 1904.
A model from India
Neo took its inspiration from Café Coffee Day, a Bangalorean chain founded in 1996 that now has around 1500 points of sales in India, plus branches in Malaysia, the Czech Republic and Austria. Its success stems from its rapid development and vertical business structure, with coffee coming from its own plantations (which cover 4050 hectares in Chickmagalur) in south-west India. In 2010, to finance the chain’s development and stay ahead of behemoth Starbucks, Coffee Day Enterprises Limited received investment from the Standard Chartered bank. And it worked. Starbucks (despite its 24,000 outlets in 75 countries) didn’t get into India until 2012, after joining forces with the conglomerate Tata, and though it has more than 1200 cafes in the country today, it still hasn’t overtaken Café Coffee Day.
Neo hopes to have the same impact in Africa, because while Starbucks is present in South Africa, Morocco and Egypt, it hasn’t yet worked its way into Western Africa or Nigeria, the most populated country on the continent with 190,6 million inhabitants.
Next time you’re in Lagos, you know where to go.