It is said that a visit to Kigali city is never complete till one has ventured into Nyamirambo.
Nyamirambo stands out on account of a few land marks — the unrivalled street culture, the dense concentration of mosques and the vibrant informal sector.
Perhaps the one thing lacking to complete Nyamirambo’s lively cosmopolitan appeal was a truly definitive dining place and culture. Talking of dining culture, Nyamirambo actually has one already, on the sheer strength of being a traditional Muslim town.
Nyamirambo is reputed for Asusa, a simple but tasty meal of beef and liver sauce, served with chapatti and goes for as low as Rwf300 at some of the small nameless eating places that dot narrow streets.
Enter Al-Mannu Fast Food:
Perhaps the only problem with eating Asusa lay in the fact that there was no truly central Asusa joint to point to, a place that its true fans would call home.
But Al-Mannu is much more than Asusa — in fact, the dish is listed second-last under the pastry and local specials section of the restaurant’s extensive menu.
In just six months of its existence, the eatery has distinguished itself on two fronts: The first is as a definitive reference point for Nyamirambo’s large Muslim community. The other thing about Al-Mannu is that it seems to embody the progressive face of the time-tested family business model.
The restaurant is owned and managed by four siblings from a family whose residency in the area dates back to over four generations. In fact, the building in which it is housed is family property built in 1936.
Today, the siblings rent the facility from their father, who acquired it from his family line. The bright pink walls of the new modern structure hold their own amidst the town’s flamboyant graffiti-covered walls.
Located at the traffic junction of the mosque closest to the ONATRACOM complex, the joint is an obvious point of reference. It serves the same purpose for anyone in Nyamirambo who loves eating out in a decent place.
What the four siblings did was to bring the best food there is — the things which rich people usually find in big hotels out to the street where they were born and raised.
Jamaal Jasir Murinzi, the eldest of the siblings and manager recalls that initially, the idea was to start a family business, whatever business, with his three siblings; Sanaa Uwamahoro, Sunia Igiraneza, and Salwa Micomyiza.
At the time, Murinzi worked as a customer service adviser at EON, the third-largest energy supplier in the UK, and studying business administration at the University of Central Lancashire.
“At EON I learnt best customer service practices, how to manage people and change, how to motivate employees, sales and negotiation skills, all of which have helped Al-Mannu to be what it is today.”
By the time Murinzi clocked five years with EON, he had spent a total fifteen years wearing the diaspora tag, in the UK. “I would say the fact that I wanted to come back home inspired this,” he says.
Prior to this move, he had been visiting Rwanda for six weeks of every year, beginning in 2010, primarily to check on family and relations, but also to survey the local business landscape. “All I knew is I wanted to return home, and the first requisite for this was to have my own business.”
When he sold the idea to his sisters, it was not expressly with a restaurant in mind.
“I remember giving my sisters three options; water sports on Lake Kivu, a game shop with all table games, and the last option was a restaurant. My sisters immediately settled for the restaurant option because it was the most straight-forward, since there was a ready market for it.”
Setting up shop
For business premises, the siblings turned to an old disused building owned by their father. “It was more like a condemned house,” recalls Murinzi.
Actually, some of the traditional black bricks (rukarakara) originally used on the building have been preserved for posterity, although encased in modern finishing.
For a man who was returning from a fifteen year-sojourn in the Diaspora, it was only natural that Murinzi would be bringing in a bit of the newly-acquired foreign influence, especially with regards to food culture .
“I wanted to set up something that was a typical British-Asian eatery, and this is because of where I was raised, in Bolton, Northwest England, which has a very big Asian community. I got raised on that kind of food.”
Today, a significant part of their clientele is of Arab resident in Nyamirambo, a suburb that is dotted with offices of many Islamic organisations.
Two other groups that call this place home on account of the Asian-influenced cuisine are Rwandans from the Diaspora, and business people who ply the Dubai route. These mostly come for the kebab and grilled meats, or simply to converge.
By far the most ambitious section of the restaurant is the kitchen, which is more of an embodiment of the modern open kitchen concept.
It’s the kind of kitchen in which you will follow whatever your chef is whipping up for you from the comfort of your table, one into which a few hyper-active clients occasionally step to whip up their own recipe.
“Our kitchen concept is open-plan, in that there is nowhere to hide,” quips Murinzi.
Such is the kitchen’s central role in the restaurant’s reputation that it was actually the first thing to be secured. To do this, the owners went all the way to one of the local Five-star hotels, where the services of an 8-tier chef were procured.
“Basically, I asked him to bring the Five-star experience down to the streets,” says Murinzi, adding: “I told him I can’t pay him as much as his previous employer as I didn’t have the money but a vision that I wanted to share with him. I told him that here, his cooking would be appreciated by his own family and community,” Murinzi adds.