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Smoking a million dime from nyama choma in Kigali

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By | October 19th 2010

By Mangoa Mosota

The stable food for Rwandese people is bananas, potatoes, and pumpkins. The food is smashed and served with meat stew.

They sparingly eat ugali with meat and cassava leaves. But a Kenyan entrepreneur has made residents of the country’s capital city, Kigali, embrace nyama choma — a tasty roast beef serving common in Kenyan eateries, especially in Nairobi.

The eatery, one of a kind in Kigali, attracts an average of 500 customers a day.

Both Kenyans and Rwandese mingle freely and enjoy ugali served with nyama choma or fried meat at Car Wash Bar and Restaurant. There are also traditional vegetables such as cassava and pumpkin leaves.

“I eat nyama choma every weekend in this place. It is very delicious and I drown it down with a drink,” Kenneth Kahumuza, a Rwandese national, says with a smile.

Kahumuza, who is in his mid 30s, says he has been a patron at the joint for the last two years.

When I sought to speak to the owner of the eatery, he told me to wait for five minutes, but it was one hour later, when he showed up for a 25-minute interview. This was due to the fact that he had many customers to serve.

Nyama choma fans

“Many Kenyans living in this city frequent my facility. A number of locals are also keen on the nyama choma. There have been prominent Kenyans and visitors from other parts of the world such as the US and Europe,” says Francis Wahome, 43.

Among prominent Kenyans who patronised Car Bash Bar and Restaurant include Prime Minister Raila Odinga, ministers Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Beth Mugo, Otieno Kajwang’ and Amason Kingi.

“The Prime Minister savoured our nyama choma delicacies in early the year,” says Wahome. “He said he was glad to see the investment I have made in Rwanda.”

The father of three says he invested Sh3 million in the eatery five years ago, and the returns have been encouraging. He raised capital from his savings and bank loans.

“I receive more 500 customers on Fridays and Saturdays. On other days, I host about 300 patrons,” says the businessman, who quit a banking career in Kenya to try his luck in the fastest growing economy in the region.

Quit banking

He quit his career two years ago to start a butchery in Kigali. He later saw an opportunity and went full throttle into the nyama choma venture.

Wahome says what he used to earn is incomparable to the returns from his business.

The returns from my investment are tidy and I wish I had resigned earlier from my job.”

He says he now has loyal customers due to the open-air design of the restaurant and its outstanding service.

Wahome has expanded his business by opening a second restaurant, near King Faiser Hospital, about two kilometres Car Wash, found along Poins Lour Road.

He says the second facility, Grill and Barbecue Corner, has a different design and will have a wider variety of food.

The businessman has 75 employees for the two eateries. Only three of his employees are Kenyans and the rest are Rwandese.He credits his success to the host Government, which he says has made foreign investment conducive.

“One can register a business in this country in record two days. There are no bureaucracies and the Rwanda Development Board is very efficient,” Wahome says of a country commonly referred to as Le pays de millie collines, ‘the country of 1000 hills.’

He says many potential investors are increasingly paying attention to the country, which has overcome the scars of genocide suffered 16 years ago.

He attributes Kigali’s attractiveness as an investment hub partly to the city’s high security, good infrastructure and impeccable cleanliness.

“There are no cases of car-jackings in this city. In fact, I operate at night without fear of armed robbers targeting my customers or the days’ collection,” says Wahome, who travels to Kenya monthly, to be with his wife and three children.

He, however, says that Value Added Tax in Rwanda is quite high, standing at 18 per cent, compared to Kenya’s 16 per cent.

The eatery has been ornately designed. The wall behind the table is a mosaic of artistic drawings, among them two people, sipping traditional brew from a pot. Then there is a picture of a cheerful waitress serving oval-shaped ugali depicting the many hills in Rwanda.

Rwanda seems to have put behind the 1994 killings of close to one million people. The roads in Kigali are without potholes, the traffic is flawless and the environment is unadulterated.

But what has been Wahome’s strategy to success? “I personally go around talking to my customers to ensure they receive the best of the food they order, and often times, I call each one of them by name,” he says.

Second attempt

“I advice Kenyans not to just rush to Kigali to start any business. They must specialise and offer the best, since without professionalism, they will not go far.”

He says most Kenyans working in Kigali are consultants, and earn a modest salary as expatriates. On the streets in Kigali, I meet one such worker, Kennedy Omulindi, a former schoolmate, working as a manager in a consultancy firm.

Wahome jointly opened Car Wash in 2005 with another investor but two years later, it closed down, due to poor management.

He re-opened it in early 2007 and its performance led to the opening of the second one early this year. The businessman plans to establish a third nyama choma jo expand the business to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

His major challenge is the poor communication between his staff and patrons. Rwandese workers speak halting English and Kiswahili, the languages that almost all Kenyans in Rwanda use.

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