"The secret to a well-balanced life is a cup of tea in one hand and a good book in the other,” says Brandon Ochieng’ who has found comfort at Nairobi’s new meeting and workspace The Library.
This is the kind of benefit that many Kenyans have been looking for to get away from studying from noisy homes or the bland libraries.
Describing himself as one who gets easily distracted studying from home, he says when he stepped into The Library, the concept blew his mind away.
“A restaurant and a library coming together, I’d never seen that before,” Mr Ochieng’ says.
The Library is one of the spaces in Nairobi aiming to serve books, work, and food on one table. This new space is for people who have no problem saying, ‘I’d rather eat at a place that’s more like a library or if the library opened a restaurant, I’d be right at home.’
It is this kind of people that Ramit Walia and his business partner Rajiv Seghal, the men behind The Library located in Sarit Centre, Nairobi, seek to satisfy.
Opened last October, The Library was built with the intent of creating refreshing spaces where people can eat, drink and work from. The charm of The Library is in the details. It veers away from the typical café look.
“We wanted to create a lively environment that serves people from all walks of life,” Mr Walia says.
There is a terrace where people can sit and chat while enjoying the outside breeze.
The terrace is also where the dance floor is, for people who want to dance their stress away in the evenings and on weekends.
From the outside, you can see what is happening inside thanks to a tastefully done floor-to-ceiling height glass window. Inside is where you find the pods - the crowd puller. They are hexagonal, painted yellow with orange seats.
“The use of colour and design is intentional,” Mr Walia says. The two designed the pods and the space themselves.
“Yellows and oranges are warm colours. They are eye-catching, drawing people in, and are lively which uplifts the soul especially during this pandemic.”
Working from inside the pods is akin to being mushroomed in your own world. With a sitting capacity of between two and four people, they are soundproof, meaning you can conduct your meeting with minimal distraction.
“The pods have become very popular with businesspeople during weekdays, Mondays to Thursdays,” he says.
To reserve a pod as a workspace for the day, one pays Sh1,500 which comes with Wi-Fi, tea, and coffee.
Across the pods is a sitting area. The orange painted stairs inside lead to the library which has extra sitting space. The library has an assorted collection of books on philosophy, religion, romance among others which can keep one company. You can choose to sit on the conventional table and chair or grab a book and cozy up in one of the two semi-circular reading pods. This is Mr Ochieng’s favourite spot.
“When stressed, I just come here, grab coffee or tea and a book and nestle myself in this corner here. By the time I emerge from this place, I’m refreshed and ready to tackle the challenge I left unattended,” Mr Ochieng’ says.
My cappuccino was served in a yellow cup and a red saucer. Just looking at it made me happy. The menu is designed like a book, spiral-bound, with a table of contents. Breakfast is Chapter One and so forth.
“Food is big for us since we wanted to offer a fused version of meals from around the world,” says Mr Walia.
“We have multi-cuisine including Indian, Continental, Italian, and Thai,” he adds.
Their most popular meal is the smoked lamb chops and the unique teas; Kashmiri sulaimani, Saunfiyan fennel and Kashmiri Kahwa.
The benefits of out-of-the-norm decor, fresh air and gardens have given some properties an upper hand even as the real estate industry struggles.
Following tough times, property investors have now found an answer in uniqueness. Several restaurants and co-working spaces, for instance, are offering just more than food and seats.
Some restaurants such as the artsy Bao Box serves food and board games, and Honey & Dough has a bookshelf with a few books if you want to eat and read.
Is this shift in investment worthwhile?
Mr Walia says so far, their business has been doing well despite the pandemic.
“The pods are booked daily. However, we could do better without the curfew in place especially because we are operated at a limited capacity,” adding that the café has employed 15 people and there are plans to open another branch of The Library soon.
In towns such as Eldoret and Nanyuki, investors have also gotten creative with their properties. For some, seems like the next frontier in office space is outdoor.
In Nanyuki, a town that is growing quickly with a diverse community, The Binban, located in Kassim Plaza, is betting on its beautiful garden to lure customers.
It has three private offices, a co-working area that can seat 18 people, and a conference room.
“Our unique offering is the beautiful garden space. The soothing, calming space boosts productivity,” says Joshua Prior, the founder of The Binban.
He says that flexibility of work and better job opportunities in towns outside of Nairobi have increased the number of co-working space users.
“Since Covid-19 began, co-working spaces have become very popular due to their flexibility, and with remote working, people are moving back to their home-towns,” the 29-year-old says.
“When we first opened in 2020, we were uncertain. However, we started marketing this space as an alternative to working from home in a time of social distancing,” he says.
Their clients are start-ups, businesses, and entrepreneurs in Nanyuki, who pay Sh400 for a day at the shared space.
In towns outside Nairobi, where investors had solely focused on residential homes and retail shops, leading to a glut, co-working spaces offer investors new options. For years, these towns have been under-served by affordable office spaces.
Joan Kaburia, a manager of Kikao64, a co-working space and a cafe in Eldoret, says barely six months into the business, they are seeing good potential.
“Just like Nairobi, Eldoret is a developing town with a growing population of workers. Hence there’s a need for entrepreneurs to have flexible, affordable, readily available and convenient workspaces. We started Kikao64 to meet this need,” she says of their space which was founded by the Van Woustraat Trust.