Meet Diaspora returnee seeking to introduce street food culture

Founder of PatsBangers company Patrice Shema, a 44-year-old Rwandan national doing his kitchen. / Courtesy

There’s a saying that “a chef must think like a scientist, organise like an accountant plate like an artist and cook like a grandma”.

There’s not better suit for that adage like Patrice Shema, a 44-year-old Rwandan national who lived in London from 2006 until he returned to Kigali in October 2018 to establish his kebab and sausage signature.

Shema is a man of many hats—a photographer, journalist, painter, marketer, graphic designer, seasoned chef and has already earned a new moniker, ‘Shema; the King of sausages’.

His experience having gone through a lot, he says has made him a “hard-skinned” challenger.

PatsBangers company manager Patrice Shema speaks to The New Times journalist during the interview last week. / Sam Ngendahimana

At an early age in 1979, Shema and his family were forced to flee Jinja, Eastern Uganda—where they were living as refugees—to Nairobi, Kenya as former Ugandan President Idi Amin’s regime became a bit too notorious to bear.

He returned to Uganda a few years later and lived in the country until 1996,

“About two years after RPF [Rwanda Patriotic Front] had liberated Rwanda, my family moved back home,” Shema told Business Times.

In Rwanda, he gave it a shot on journalism for a while and later joined Creative Communications—one of the first advertising firms—and grew in ranks to the level of production manager.

In 2006, he left Kigali for greener pastures in London, England. However, he didn’t find it easy integrating himself there as he would have imagined.

“It is never easy establishing yourself out there. Europe is not a bed of roses, it is an academy,” Shema said adding, “You won’t leave here as a production manager and think you will instantly get an office job in England which is not the case.”

He enrolled in UK-based University of Centre Croydon for Bachelor’s degree in graphics and marketing, he incorporated that with his passion for the kitchen.

“Making food is something I loved doing and I knew I would retire doing. At the school, I was studying at the same time cooking as a part-timer,” Shema said.

He added, “At that time I was father of two. It was quite challenging but I loved doing what I did. The challenge I took was for the hard-skinned.”

But it is the learning mentality that helped him through most of the challenges he faced.

“When I got there I had the urge to learn and the challenges didn’t affect me. Every single step I took, I learned something because I knew that at some point I would return home. My target was to return by 2018,” Shema said.

Shema in his kitchen.

While in London, he got involved in the Rwandan community activities and started catering diaspora community events and was eventually elected as the Chairperson of the Rwandan community in London—a position he still holds.

He plans to go back (to London) in April to organize an election for the new leaders, he said.

In the U.K, Shema learned the English cuisine, worked with several renowned restaurants such as Trinity restaurant (for two years), Italian Bella Restaurant among others. It is while working in English cuisines that he hatched the idea to start his own private venture.

“At some point, I applied for a job at the ministry of justice as a court usher where I worked for three years. It is during this time that I got tired of working for other people. I thought it was best to follow my dream because I loved art and cuisine,” Shema said.

He added, “I thought about what I could give back home; something that I loved doing and could inspire the youth, inspire the way people live, relate and eat. That’s how PatsBangers idea was birthed,”

The name of his company PatsBangers is derived from; ‘Pat’ for Patrice, ‘S’ for Shema and Bangers from the Bangers and mash, also known as sausages and mash, a traditional dish of Great Britain and Ireland comprising sausages served with mashed potatoes.

“Cooking is something lovely and it is needed for our cosmopolitan Rwanda especially when it aligns with agriculture. I love farms and most of the things I do, I deal directly with the sources in farm—the pigs, beef, chicken—to make sausages and kebabs as original as possible.

A sample of his sausage.

At PatsBangers, Shema has a dormant shareholder and a friend from the Republic of Ireland.

“I studied how to make sausages after realising that Rwanda has a few sausage preferences to pick from. I thought about creating my own signature and put it on the local market. I have started with my mobile grilling to reach more people,” he explains.

He’s currently based in Kimironko but says rent is “very, very high!”

Shema procured a parcel of land in Bugesera and plans to establish his permanent kitchen there in the near future.

“Rent is high here but, do I move back to England? No! I will have to grow with the challenges.

The mobile kitchen

For the start, Shema is doing mobile grilling in a number of venues around Kigali.

He grills from at New Kigali Golf Club on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8am- 8pm and Sundays at the Ivy bar and lounge roof-top -Remera Corner Building- from 2pm - 9Pm.

Shema has plans of expanding to more venues in coming days to keep up with demand trends.

Among the places that he is keen on opening an outlet is the Car-free zone in the city center, which he says is underutilized.

“I think Rwanda is becoming a multicultural community and for Rwandans to explore and appreciate food; it will be important for the society to accept street foods. Let’s use the car-free zone and all these open spaces that we have in Kigali as seasonal food hubs.

‘People ought to appreciate the small little fires set up on the streets and not be confined to the common buffet. It’s not only about big hotels and indoor eatery places. We need to expand on the basis of demand by tourists for diversity,” Shema said.

Shema is not oblivious that the Rwanda culture frowns upon people who eat on the streets. It is for this reason that his street food concept is backed by chairs and stools can be set up to allow street food culture to thrive.

In regards to the consequences of the concept to the city’s hygiene, Shema says that with the Kigali City Authorities having has already installed dustbins along city streets, maintaining cleanliness will not be a problem.

“What is left to be done is utilize the car-free zone because it is currently underutilized and for the authorities to come up with guidelines for street-food makers to follow.

Rwanda is a developing country and there’s going to be a time when it will be hard for people to sit and eat in a restaurant because there will be little time to waste,” he said.

To Rwandans in the diaspora who have thoughts and plans of returning home, Shema says it takes boldness and sacrifice.

“Coming back home? You have got to believe that it is a better decision, be innovative, be bold and sacrifice some of the things you consider beneficial there, you will be surprised how amazing it is to be in Rwanda. Africa as a whole is simply beautiful,” Shema noted.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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