Restaurant built on recycled materials


Nairobi Street Kitchen Co-founder Alyssa Popat during an interview at Nairobi Street Kitchen, Nairobi on May 26, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

After completing her degree in architecture in America in 2016, Alyssa Popat travelled back home to Kenya in search of a place to put her newly acquired skills into practice.

Her sister Alyana Popat, whose background was in hospitality and management, had just thought of launching a restaurant that would serve dishes inspired by different cultures globally.

The two decided to work together on the project. Alyssa would oversee the design and construction of the premises, while Alyana handled the day-to-day business operations.


Nairobi Street Kitchen Co-founder Alyssa Popat shows the wine closet at Nairobi Street Kitchen, Nairobi on May 26, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

“Having travelled around the world, we both got to sample tasty cuisines from different cultures. When we got back, we thought, why not create our food concept that would offer all these cuisines and leverage our different strengths to make it work,” says Ms Alyssa, the co-founder of Nairobi Street Kitchen.

Unlike most new restaurants that often have modern luxurious fittings, the new establishment would be built and designed using old and recycled materials.

This, would not only help to manage waste in the city but also lower the initial cost of setting up the restaurant.


Nairobi Street Kitchen Co-founder Alyssa Popat during an interview at Nairobi Street Kitchen, Nairobi on May 26, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

“Nairobi as a city has a huge waste management problem, and so we thought of a way of dealing with this by reusing and repurposing some of the old materials that would be discarded as waste,” says Ms Alyssa.

For instance, the building they chose to host this new venture had been abandoned and was dilapidated.

Instead of demolishing it, in the process creating an extra waste problem, they decided with the help of other contractors to renovate it and add new steel bar columns, only for support.

Once this was done, they sourced old materials such as used bathtubs and converted them into sinks.

Used wine bottles were repurposed into cocktail glasses and holding jars. Gas pipes were used to create sits while old drums were turned into tables.

Old cassettes were used on counters to create a nostalgic atmosphere on the premises. For their kitchens and sitting areas, they repurposed old buses, trucks and containers.

“I remember when we brought in a 1960s Leyland bus, which we identified just by the roadside, and we had to break some walls just to get it in. We then painted it using artwork inspired by Colombia and remodelled it to fit our needs,” says Alyssa.


Creative Coffee area at Nairobi Street Kitchen, Nairobi on May 26, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

They say the designing and building process was intensive. They engaged several people including local artists to decorate the walls and other surfaces with their paintings and artwork.

It took them four years to finally bring the project to fruition.

“Before starting a project, you have all these assumptions about how it is going to turn out. When I first went into the project, I realised that there were a lot of things I hadn’t taken into account.

A lot of what I had been taught in school is also not what I encountered on site, so I had to learn through the project,” says Alyssa.

Finally, in 2021, the sisters opened the Nairobi Street Kitchen to customers. The establishment, located in Westlands, Nairobi comprises 10 restaurants and a bar serving different global cuisines and drinks.

Some of the restaurants include Si Senor, which serves Mexican dishes such as tacos and margarita cocktails, The Nood, which serves Asian cuisines, 68 Library, which serves Portuguese wines, among others and Desi Loco which serves Indian delicacies.

“Most of our food is sourced locally. Working with local suppliers makes it easier to manage quality and consistency. We do use a few imported items, but that is because we also have such a wide range of cuisines,” says Ms Alyana, a co-founder.

They cater to a wide array of customers — individuals and corporate.

“The experience we wanted people to have, is they go up to a container or food truck, interact with the chef as they place their order and get to see how the chef makes their food,” says Ms Alyana.


An old minitruck at Nairobi Street Kitchen, Nairobi on May 26, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

She, however, says getting people used to being served by a waiter to adopt this concept has not been easy. They have to demonstrate to their customers why they may want to try it out.

They recently launched an outside catering arm of the business, which they hope to grow this year.

They also plan to work with other partners in introducing their food truck concepts to other parts of Kenya.

“At times we have to source for professional chefs from different countries because some of the recipes we offer are a bit complex but we make sure that every person who works at NSK as a chef or mixologist gets to learn how to make something from every restaurant, so a course that would take someone years to learn in school is learnt in weeks here,” she says.

A majority of the people the duo have employed to work at NSK are aged between 18-35 years, and while it is not easy to find highly qualified professionals amongst this age bracket, the entrepreneurs say for them the joy lies in being able to address the youth unemployment crisis that the country is facing.

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