William Guda Osewe is not just another rags-to-riches story. He has grown into one of the pillars of Nairobi’s food culture, owing to his Ranalo Foods – popularly known as K’Osewe.
A five-kilogramme batch of shish kebab, better known in Kenya as mshikaki, that Mr Osewe sold to Kaloleni locals in the early 1970s became the foundation of the empire comprising eateries, a four-star hotel in Kisumu, a block of apartments in Nairobi’s South C and a home in Karen.
Hawking of mshikaki evolved into an eatery under a tree in Kaloleni, which then turned into Ranalo Foods at Kenya Railways Central Station, before he moved to the former Cameo Cinema on Kenyatta Avenue, and finally to Kimathi Street.
Ranalo Foods opened other branches in Upper Hill and Kisumu.
Politicians, city dwellers and tourists throng the Kimathi Street branch to enjoy Mr Osewe’s famous food.
The icing Mr Osewe always wanted on his cake was a hotel. In September 2007, he incorporated Blue Waters Hotels Ltd, which would later own the Bluewaters Hotel in Kisumu.
Mr Osewe’s wife Stella and children Joseph, Staicy and Edward are shareholders in the hotel.
Bluewaters has signed franchising deals with Dubai’s Aleph Hospitality and American giant Marriott International.
Bluewaters is expected to join the prestigious league of Protea Hotels by Marriott in 2022.
But one of Kenya’s biggest success stories is now swimming in debt.
High Court Judge Thripsisa Cherere on Friday allowed Guaranty Trust Bank to sell Bluewaters Hotel, becoming the family’s second run-in with auctioneers in just two months.
At 10am on July 30, Bensure Auctioneers sold hundreds of items at Ranalo Foods Upper Hill, marking an end to the branch.
File cabinets, food warmers, cutlery, microwaves, gas cookers, freezers, furniture and many other items were sold.
Two days before the Bensure auction, the judge lifted an order that had stopped the bank from selling Bluewaters Hotel and the South C building.
Escaped death narrowly
The Osewes owe Guaranty Trust Bank more than Sh328 million, secured using the Kisumu hotel and the South C building. The bank has been trying to auction the property since 2018.
Mr and Mrs Osewe sued to stop the bank from doing so, arguing that they have been servicing the loan.
After the judge lifted the order barring the auction of the properties, the couple filed an application in court, intending to appeal.
The Osewes argued that their property is valued at four times the loan. They added that the Kisumu hotel is on a prime beachfront and would be difficult to replace if the auction goes on.
They said adverse action on the Kisumu property would spell doom for their franchising deal with Marriott and Aleph.
Guaranty Trust Bank, however, insisted that the Osewes have defaulted on their loan and that they are only buying time with another court order barring the auction.
The bank said it is not a party to the franchising agreements.
“The plaintiffs/applicants did not demonstrate that the defendants/respondents would be unable to adequately pay them damages as may be ordered should the intended appeal succeed,” Justice Cherere said.
Mr Osewe’s fortunes have not been good in the last three years.
Shortly after opening the Ranalo Foods branch in Kisumu last year, it emerged that the restaurant was on Kenya Railways land. It was demolished but later reopened at another location.
In 2018, Mr Osewe escaped death narrowly when his friend Tom Oywa Mboya shot him three times. He underwent surgery at Aga Khan Hospital.