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How the late Kunste Hotel owner built his empire

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Nakuru’s Kunste Hotel is well known to travellers. But its owner, Stephen Kung’u, has always lurked behind its success — opting to steer away from media limelight. When he passed on five years ago at his Shabab Estate home, media coverage was not wide, though his investments in the town — Pivot Hotel and Club Coco — are well known. At one time, he also owned Nairobi’s Monte Carlo club.

In 2001, Kung’u appeared in the news, which hardly happened, in a case in which he had sued his son for trespass, threatening workers and scaring away customers. But the son, Michael Ryan Kung’u, said in a replying affidavit that he had been barred from his father’s properties because he was HIV positive.

Once a councillor in Nakuru in late 1970s and early 1980s, Kung’u had become powerful as a member of the Ministry of Commerce’ Scheme for Assistance of African Industrialists, Artisans and Businessmen in Nakuru. It is here that he honed his business acumen although Commerce minister cancelled his appointment in 1980.

Kung’u led a private life and burial arrangements at Pivot Hotel were private as well with family members opting for little or no pestering from the media.

In Nakuru, Kung’u’s trademark smile came to be the face of his businesses that he solely managed to a very ripe old age leaving a rich legacy in the hospitality industry.

Despite his advanced age, he seems to have understood that millions of money lay in romance, music and alcohol, even in a town where youth-wingers from the ruling party Kanu walked around with whips to enforce curfews meant to discourage politicking, public drunkenness and ethnic violence. His Pivot Hotel is a 24-hour club complete with a discotheque, extensive bar counters as well as rooms.

For most of his investing life, Kingu did not mix politics with business opting to take a narrow neutral path. When he built the Three Star Kunste Hotel, he was able to host Kanu regional delegate meetings that lasted for days and when they left the opposition parties would book the same venue. All he cared for was business and did not want his investments to be associated with any particular political group.

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Club Coco Savanna was established to tap young revellers and was managed by his brother in the former Hughes Building. In 1998, he sold the business to his late brother, James Kagiri, an issue which later became part of the succession tussle with one of Kagiri’s wives insisting it was not part of his (Kagiri’s) estate. Club Coco did not survive the family rows and was closed down.

But Pivot, located in a highly preferred residential and commercial zone with ample car parking has become one of Kung’u’s flagship projects. The late entrepreneur’s secret to success was a tip he always gave to his close associates whom he liked talking to — albeit on rare occasions: “If you want to become poor, fail to pay debts.”

And for the high and mighty in politics, government and religious circles who prefer a quiet place to while away the evening or hold a meeting of about 500 people, Kunste is the place to go, especially after its recent acquisition of an extra parcel of land that enabled it to cater for open air gatherings for about 5,000 people.

Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri describes Kung’u as a hard-working man whose zeal for hotel business was unrivalled in Nakuru saying he was an iconic figure and one of the pillars of the county whose establishments remain major landmarks in the town.

So attached to his businesses was he that Mr Kung’u got agitated when some well-connected people obtained allotment letters for two plots infront of Kunste hotel on May, 3 1993.

He immediately moved to court saying if developed, his hotel, classified as a tourist facility would have its view blocked from the Nakuru-Nairobi highway. The case which ended at the Court of Appeal in his favour is the best exposition on Kung’u’s grasp on business ideas now and in the future.

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The idea to construct Kunste Hotel was mooted in the early seventies when he applied to be allocated the parcel of land saying he wished to build a tourist facility.

On August 26, 1976, Mr Kung’u wrote to the Commissioner of Land seeking assurance that nothing would be built infront of his hotel saying it would blur its view from the Nakuru-Nairobi Highway where plot B was located infront of his facility (Plot A) and it met Plot C at the Nakuru-Nyahururu highway intersection completing the L-shaped reserve infront of his plot B that Kunste was to be built then.

On August 26, 1976, Mr Kung’u wrote to the Commissioner of Land seeking assurance that nothing would be built infront of his hotel saying it would blur its view from the Nakuru-Nairobi Highway where plot B was located infront of his facility (Plot A) and it met Plot C at the Nakuru-Nyahururu highway intersection completing the L-shaped reserve infront of his plot B that Kunste was to be built then.

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