James Mwangi: From Goat Herder To Founding Sunshine Hotel In Kericho

Sunshine Hotel Limited is one of the busiest hotels in Kericho. The hotel has hosted various dignitaries including former president Uhuru Kenyatta, president William Ruto, Raila Odinga, among other high-profile clients.

In 2018, the hotel hit the headlines when its strict guest booking policy turned away Laikipia Women Representative Catherine Waruguru and her lawyer husband William Kiget for not producing a marriage certificate.

This was in accordance with a notice pinned at the entrance of the hotel stating that couples seeking accommodation must produce a marriage certificate.

The hotel’s management could not be swayed by threats and intimidations from Waruguru’s friends, who included former Energy CS Charles Keter and MPs Nelson Koech, Florence Bore, and Sylvanus Maritim.

But what makes Sunshine Hotel truly remarkable is not just its high-profile guests or its unwavering policies. It’s the incredible journey of its founder, 69-year-old James Mwangi, a class one dropout.

This is his journey as told by WoK:

Poor background

Speaking about his journey to Daily Nation, Mwangi narrated how his education Journey at Nakuru Bahati in the sixties ended prematurely when his teacher sent him home to fetch sh 20 for school fees – a hefty sum that his family could not afford at the time.

His father worked as a cook for European settlers, and his meager salary was not sufficient to support his family of 9. Consequently, Mwangi was employed to take care of goats in the neighborhood at a paltry salary of 50 cents a month.

At one time, he heard of an opportunity to enroll in a free mission school in Naivasha but he did not have the fare.

Despite these hurdles, he was passionate about the hospitality industry from an early age. One day, he thought of starting an eatery by renting a kiosk at the busy Tengecha Lane in Kericho.

For startup capital, he liaised with two of his friends to raise sh 20 000, which they used to pay rent and purchase ingredients. However, the two friends soon gave up on the venture as it was not bringing any profits.

They tried to convince Mwangi to sell the business, but he refused. He told them to wait until he had gotten enough capital to pay them back their share but they were impatient.

First customer

Mwangi’s initial capital could only afford him a kilo of meat and flour. His first customer was a mechanic. But after trying the food, his feedback was that it was so bad that he would not eat another mouthful even if it was offered for free. That was in 1989.

Undiscouraged, Mwangi convinced other customers to buy his food and got enough money to purchase ingredients for the next day. Within weeks of practice, he had become as good a cook as his father – Mr. Joseph Kuria.

However, he had trouble making chapatis and mandazis. “I convinced a man called Juma to show me how to make the dough. He showed me once then I was left struggling on my own. I did not even know how to light a Jiko,” Mwangi told Daily Nation.

However, his githeri, ugali, and tea were delicious. In the second month, he found someone to assist him, but the new benefactor soon left to start his own hotel in Kisii. Left Alone, Mwangi worked as the cook, cashier, and waiter. Sometimes, customers left without paying.

It was then that he employed a cook named Kennedy, and the business boomed.

Nairobi Customers

One day, customers from Nairobi visited the hotel and ordered an omelet. In his ignorance, Mwangi served scrambled eggs. The customers abused him, calling him stupid and ignorant.

“They spoke more English than I could understand, I was hurt because I did not get the opportunity to pursue an education,” he recalled.

By 1991, he had sufficient revenues to employ more employees. It was then that he employed one Charles Ochieng as the hotel manager.

He also bought his first car, a pick-up, from then Town Mayor John Kauria. Soon, an investor by the name of Benjamin Tirop admired his work and invited him to be his tenant in one of his commercial apartments at Tengecha Lane.

Mwangi gave in after seeing how beautiful the 9-roomed building was.

Together with his workers, they relaunched Sunshine Hotel, improved their menu, and started offering guest room services.

But there was a twist – Sunshine Hotel didn’t serve alcohol and enforced a strict no-casual-dating policy. Every couple seeking a room had to produce a marriage certificate.

“The rules lost me some clients, but I stood my ground. I said I would rather lose customers but stick to my father’s sound morals that he had taught me,” he said.

Through the years, the hotel has grown to dominate Kericho’s hospitality industry.

Currently, the hotel has two branches: Sunshine Hotel Tengecha and Sunshine Hotel Upper Hill.