With the the help of a Comerica Hatch grant, Baobab Fare will soon be an African restaurant with a juice bar and market in Detroit’s West Village
If you’ve ever thought opening a restaurant was an unattainable dream because of lack of resources or funds, let me tell you about Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere.
These two married immigrants are readying to open Baobab Fare, an African restaurant, market and juice bar in Detroit. They want to supply the area with the tastes, herbs, spices and produce of their native Burundi, a landlocked country in East Africa that has been troubled by violence.
Last week, the married entrepreneurs hosted a pop-up dinner at Brooklyn Street Local in Corktown, serving coconut rice, African vegetable stew, spinach with peanuts, marinated chicken and onion, ginger-passion-fruit juice and African tea. The dining event was sold out, and Mamba said they served 100 dishes in 45 minutes.
The pop-up helped promote Baobab Fare’s involvement with the annual Comerica Hatch Detroit contest that gives $10,000 to one small business looking to open a brick and mortar in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park. The future African eatery rose above 160 entries to the top 10, and later the final four.
Batch Brewing, Sister Pie, Live Cycle Detroit, Busted Bra Shop, Bumbo’s Bar, Detroit Institute of Bagles and Detroit Vegan Soul are some of the former Hatch winners and finalists that have opened with the help of the grant.
The success of the pop-up, coupled with buzz from local media, helped make Baobab Fare one of the favorites to win this year’s contest. Friday they were announced as winners. Besides the $50,000, they get access to more than $200,000 worth of resources such as legal services, public relations, accounting help and more.
“It’s crazy. It’s a dream come true,” said Mamba.
He and his wife married in 2013. Shortly after, she fled the unrest in Burundi and came to the United States. She found out she was pregnant and was able to stay and give birth to her twins here with the help of Freedom House. Mamba joined his family in Detroit in 2015.
Originally the family wasn’t going to stay in Detroit, partially because of the cold weather, but the couple — who have degrees in business and English, respectively — changed their minds.
“This city has been giving us a lot, so we have to stay and tell the story for our kids, so we decided we have to stay here,” he said.
Mamba said when they first started talking about opening a restaurant in Detroit, people didn’t believe them.
“Some friends were saying ‘you guys can’t do that, you can’t even speak English,’ ” said Mamba, who speaks Kirundi, Swahili and French, and only learned English a year and a half ago. “It’s like showing everybody that, don’t be afraid. You can do this. You have to work hard and dream big.”
The exact location for Baobab Fare is still being determined, but Mamba said they’re looking at a few buildings in Detroit’s West Village. Meanwhile, the next pop-up is being scheduled for the week after Labor Day. Details are still being hammered out.
Once open, the owners want to work with Freedom House to staff their restaurant, helping other immigrants and refugees gain skills and employment.
Keep up with Baobab Fare’s progress at baobabfare.com or facebook.com/baobabfare.