EMY Africa

Villa ‘Er Up!

Quite the successful bloke – Fred Apaloo shares with us the story behind his boutique catering house, and some of his hopes and aspirations.

Imagine this: an intimate setting in the heart of Accra, where different social groups meet to enjoy good food, good company and a whole lot of networking. That’s the experience Villa Grace pop-up dining events seek to provide. The Villa Grace dining events are quite popular for their exclusivity and focus on creating an unforgettable moment through food. But the experience goes beyond pop-up dining events. This boutique catering house also offers services for private events and in the comforts of one’s home. Started in 2015 by Fred Apaloo, Villa Grace has quite the story to share.

“Villa Grace was never a business that I planned to start. It was actually birthed through divine intervention of living my purpose and making an impact. I always loved cooking from when I was a little boy. So, when I moved back to Ghana and saw the opportunity of catering and selling a lifestyle, I jumped on it.”

Fred Apaloo, who swooped the Young Achiever’s Award at this years EMY Awards 2020, has a lot to be grateful for. Returning to Ghana in 2015 after spending some time in the US, Fred’s only connection to the Ghanaian world of fine dining was his bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management, and a strong passion for curating gastronomical experiences.

“It [Villa Grace] was actually birthed through divine intervention of living my purpose and making an impact.”

Villa Grace started out as Fred hosting a few friends in his home which was actually called Villa Grace; Grace after his grandmother, a woman who introduced him to the passions of food. Five years down the line, the name Grace is now synonymous to world class gastronomic experiences in Accra, something that Fred is very proud of.

“We truly have grown immensely over the past 5 years from staffing, to assets, to production size, to capacity and more. So I am indeed very proud of what we have accomplished thus far, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Growth has not been the only win for Fred and his company. Through his hard work at making the Villa Grace brand worthy of note, Fred has had the pleasure of catering privately for such important personalities as Her Royal Highness Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark, Facebook CPO Chris Cox, and Thomas Montag, COO of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Also, in June 2018, Fred was named to the much-coveted Forbes Africa 30 Under 30, which goes to show that his effort and hard work have been noticed and are being appreciated.

Running such a successful brand has however not been a smooth journey for Fred. Between impacts on his personal life and dealing with problems during business, anybody else would have been exhausted. But definitely not the cheerful Fred Apaloo.

“I think my biggest challenge would be time. Ghanaians typically don’t have the best sense of time so brunch always ends up being dinner,” he chuckled. “But of course, like any service provider we’ve also battled the usual issues like staff efficiency, customer service. The productions are not really that challenging to be honest, but I am sure the design team at Lionheart Events will say otherwise if you ask them because dealing with me can be difficult.”

Fred was however wistful about how consuming building a dream could be. “I don’t have much time on the weekends anymore to really spend time with my friends and family – which is important to me because I have the best group of them.”

Like most businesses worldwide, Villa Grace operations have also been hit by the covid-19 pandemic. Government safety restrictions as well as a value for his clients’ wellbeing led to a halt in operations. Fred expressed his disappointment in being unable to operate fully during this particular period. “We have not been able to have any public productions since the pandemic really hit us. Our clients miss us terribly and we miss them too, but it is in the interest of everyone’s safety that we follow the guidelines on how and when to resume productions. I believe we’re almost there.”

Growth has not been the only win for Fred and his company. Through his hard work at making the Villa Grace brand worthy of note, Fred has had the pleasure of catering privately for such important personalities as Her Royal Highness Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark, Facebook CPO Chris Cox, and Thomas Montag, COO of Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Also, in June 2018, Fred was named to the much-coveted Forbes Africa 30 Under 30, which goes to show that his effort and hard work have been noticed and are being appreciated.

These challenges have not dampened Fred’s very high spirits. He already has dreams and plans for the future. When asked about future plans, Fred responded, “For the brand generally I definitely would want to go into catering outside of the country and across the continent, international pop up events and ultimately the restaurant business.” The concept of the Villa Grace experience crossing the borders of Ghana into other countries is impressive.

Fred is very happy with the progress his company has made in the last five years, and the story that their actions have written. In his view, he wouldn’t change a single thing that has happened throughout this journey.

“I am very proud of my journey. When something is a spiritual calling you’re led by the Holy Spirit, even when it can be challenging, So, in a perfect world yes there absolutely would be things that I would have done differently, but in reality I understand the purpose of my calling, I  am proud of the path I have walked, and I know that I am being guided and led. So even when I have fallen or when I fall, I know that it is all part of the master plan and I take the lessons I’m meant to take out of it. So no, I wouldn’t do things differently.”

Fui Can-Tamakloe

Fui Can-Tamakloe

Fui Can-Tamakloe is a published writer and poet based in Accra. He enjoys writing stories and articles that capture the complexities and nuances of Accra life. When he isn't writing, he can be found on a quiet beach drinking beer.