The pioneering spirit behind Shoa Bakery, a name that has become synonymous with bread across Addis Abeba and beyond, had a life marked by personal loss, adaptation, and entrepreneurial brilliance. It is a narrative of a humble man's rise to the pinnacle of business success in the heart of Ethiopia.

Born in Asmara, Eritrea, Zemui Teklu was forced to confront life's harsh realities at an early age when he lost his father at eight years old. Following three decades of losing contact, Zemui was fortunate to celebrate his 90th birthday with relatives in his hometown four years ago.

However, his early heartbreak, far from dampening his spirits, served as a catalyst. A few years after arriving in Addis in his teen, he found himself in the unfamiliar yet bustling city. The welcoming but uncertain streets of the capital bore witness to Zemui's remarkable journey from a humble beginning.

He first entered a local bakery shop as an apprentice, where he swiftly mastered the intricacies of baking, while his knack for numbers helped him to understand the subtleties of the business world.

The turning point in Zemui's life arrived when his unrelenting hard work caught the attention of his Italian employer, who, upon retirement, offered him the opportunity to buy the bakery. Despite his limited savings, Zemui realised the potential of this and did not let it slip away. With borrowed capital from close friends, he took the plunge and the first branch of Shoa Bakery was born on Dej. Zewdu Aba Koran Street (Merkato).

Shoa Bakery grew exponentially from a single branch, a feat made even more remarkable by the absence of marketing and branding professionals in that era. The growth of the bakery was organic, propelled by the power of word-of-mouth, reflecting the quality of its products and the trust it had earned. By the time of Zemui's passing at the age of 94, on May 23, 2023, the Shoa Bakery brand had spread its wings to over 16 outlets in Addis Abeba and further afield to Bishoftu (Debre Zeit) and Adama (Nazareth) towns in the Oromia Regional State.

In a stroke of visionary business acumen, Zemui expanded his business in the 60s to include its own flour supply, acquiring a plant 90Km away from the capital. This decision not only secured a consistent supply but also led to the incorporation of the Shoa Bakery & Flour Factory Plc, further consolidating the bakery's dominance in the market.

"It all happened through word of mouth," said Tsehaye Zemui, the third of 13 children.

Zemui's legacy continues through his son, who heads the family business. Under Tsehaye's leadership, the company has diversified to produce pasta and biscuits under the "Manna" and "Moya" food complexes, making it an indispensable part of Ethiopia's households.

Zemui's journey was not confined to the realm of business. He found the love of his life, Wuba Habteyes, in the very neighbourhood where he started his business journey. Together, they navigated life's journey, cherishing 68 years of marriage, 13 children, 29 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

He was remarkably unwavering in his emphasis on education, a principle that guided all his children to complete education at reputable institutions.

Zemui's life and business were not devoid of hardship. He faced several legal challenges and was imprisoned for eight months during the Dergue regime. But through it all, Zemui stood tall, quietly navigating through the successive regimes, maintaining his business acumen and discreet dignity. His life journey is marked by entrepreneurial prowess and the unwavering principles that guided him. His steadfast dedication to his business, family, and faith formed his life's pillars.

A significant aspect of Zemui’s legacy lies in the continuity of his professional and personal ethos within his family. The "Teklu Family" appears to be ingrained with a natural talent for working with flour and the art of baking. Zemui's elder brother, Belay Teklu, established a well-known pastry house in the Merkato area, and his daughter, Timnit, now successfully runs the Bilo's Pastry chain with over nine branches in the capital, carrying forward her father's advice in her craft.

Zemui's Family - as it is popularly referred to - found their home and their stronghold in the expansive residence in the Beklo Bet area. Here, the Family would come together four days a week, with Sundays reserved for cherished family gatherings. His children reflect on their father as a modest figure, a stark contrast to their disciplinarian mother, who allowed them the freedom to carve their own paths, make their own mistakes, and learn from them.

His legacy extended beyond his immediate family. A driver who worked for the company for over 15 years recalled how Shoa Bakery was often mistaken for a state-owned facility due to its reasonable prices. For him and many others, Zemui personified professionalism and institutionalised it within the company's culture.

Over the years, Zemui's contributions to the business world won him numerous awards, although those who knew him closely believe he deserved far more recognition. Even into his 90s, Zemui would continue to make his way to the office, underlining his relentless commitment to his life's work.

In his passing, Zemui Teklu leaves behind not just a successful business empire, but a legacy of hard work, leadership, and strong faith.

"Hard work, leadership and strong faith were his three qualities," the driver told Fortune.

Zemui's life story stands as a beacon, inspiring generations to envision, strive, and conquer their dreams, even against the odds. His journey resonates with the testament that perseverance, paired with vision, can indeed carve pathways to extraordinary achievements.

PUBLISHED ON Jun 17,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1207]

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