How Nyama Mama team is riding out Covid storm


Inside the Nyama Mama restaurant in Nairobi on February 22, 2017. PHOTO | NMG

Before the pandemic struck, Ninaa and Jay Shanghavi were planning the expansion of their chain of restaurants that has in recent years created a buzz in the hospitality sector. Business was good and The Good Earth Group directors were eating life with a big spoon.

Their brands Nyama Mama, Mr Yao, Blue Door and African Tapas were the to-go-to joints for people looking to indulge in sumptuous cuisines and refreshing drinks.

Then Covid-19 happened and the couple, like hundreds of other investors in the sector, was forced to shelve their expansion plans, if only to save their venture from the pandemic that was eating into their cash flow quickly than the business could generate.

“Until the hit of Covid-19, business was good and growing. We had a middle class that was quickly growing and with a bid appetite to experience new things,” reminisces Ninaa.

However, the Group is today only generating about 10 percent of its pre-Covid revenue, which would have been worse if the takeaway option was not available when the five-county lockdown was in force.

As the pandemic continues to bite, the investors have cut their staff of about 350 by 70 per cent, maintaining the bare minimum number needed to keep their outlets open without being overrun by operating costs and ultimately resorting to closures.

The couple that ran successful travel agencies before divesting and entering the sector in 2015, brought their combined 32-year experience to bear in their new venture.

In the tours and travel sector getting the product and customer targeting right is crucial success ingredient and the couple employed the same strategy in their restaurant business.

The most popular brand —Nyama Mama — is Kenyan themed eatery popular with consumers looking for traditional dishes.

“We wanted to establish a Kenyan-African restaurant and that is where Nyama Mama was born- the journey to our restaurant businesses,” says Ninaa.

“The concept was not only in cuisine but also with the African style and music for young people, giving a platform to the young generation through experience and exposure for talent,” she adds.

The same strategy worked at their other establishments Mr Yao, which serves Chinese cuisine, Blue Door, which offers some of the best cocktails in the capital city and at African Tapas, famed for its nightclub.

Despite the business downturn due to the pandemic economic fallout, the couple has resisted the urge to cut their losses and divest like so many other businesspeople have done.

“We have had sleepless nights in the past year thinking about how to keep this business going, what innovation to do on these investments,” she says.

She, however, adds that closure is not an option, noting that the business fundamentals are right and they are optimistic it can quickly recovery when the economic situation improves.

“You can never go wrong investing in food and beverage. This is where we hope to get investors looking for good returns like the African diaspora,” Shanghavi says.

“We are still here. Because we want to make sure that we bring this business back to where it was,” Ninaa adds.

The group is scouting for equity partners or private investors in their local and regional expansion bid, with Nyama Mama being a key brand to get into those markets.