Gardening

From pigsty to lush garden restaurant

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Julie Githinji’s well-manicured lawn that once hosted a pigsty and a hay barn. PHOTO | IRENE MUGO

Summary

  • “It’s a journey that has taken me two years. A step-by-step journey that I started with nothing but desire,” Ms Githinji said.
  • At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, she transformed the pigsty and hay barn into a beautiful garden restaurant with manicured lawns and assorted flowers.
  • Where pigs would feed and bales of hay stashed, today stands a lounge, a bar, and a kitchen that face the garden, giving guests a homely feel.

For two years, Julie Githinji spent her days measuring by foot the backyard of her parents’ compound as she visualised a garden restaurant on the space.

And at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, she transformed the pigsty and hay barn into a beautiful garden restaurant with manicured lawns and assorted flowers that are either potted or planted on the ground.

Where pigs would feed and bales of hay stashed, today stands a lounge, a bar, and a kitchen that face the garden, giving guests a homely feel as music plays from speakers strategically placed around the corners of the lounge.

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A staffer arranges tables and chairs at the garden restaurant in Nyeri County. PHOTO | IRENE MUGO

Cypress-curved seats are arranged around a fireplace that people gather for storytelling when the sun goes down or roast their nyama choma that is usually served alongside clients’ preferred drinks.

“The highlight of my evenings have become watching people gather around the fireplace, occasionally bursting out in laughter as they reminisce on childhood stories,” she said adding that such moments bring more life to the lounge.

Labour of love

The ambience presented by the greenery space from the entrance is both relaxing and breathtaking.

“This has been a labour of love and I have always wanted this kind of space where people are truly immersed into the bliss of nature,” she said.

Her inspiration is largely drawn from her passion for the hospitality industry. She identified a huge gap in the available food joints or taverns in Nyeri and decided to tap on that opportunity.

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Julie Githinji poses for a photo at her garden restaurant in Nyeri County. PHOTO | IRENE MUGO

The gaps ranged from lack of a proper “chill spot” besides clubs, food that was either too expensive or served in small portions and tasteless.

“I have always had a thing for hospitality. I like treating people well, serving good quality food that is proportionate to what they are paying, providing good ambience and a place to relax,” she said.

Nyeri County has no public park that children can play or adults relax, but the backyard lounge offers both.

“There is enough space, not big for a playground, but there is room for everyone including the children to move around and have fun,” she noted.

When she conceptualised the garden restaurant she was still unemployed. To raise funds, she started selling pastry from the boot of her mother’s vehicle within King’ong’o.

“I would sell over 500 of assorted pastries and that way started saving towards this project. I would buy a bag of cement a day, which I liaised with one of my uncles who is in the construction sector,” she said.

“I have always had this idea but didn’t want it conceptualised on someone else’s space. It had to be home,” she said.

Her first step was redesigning the hay barn. She demolished and replaced the wooden walls with build a brick and mortar. She then started planting the flowers and grass.

“It’s a journey that has taken me two years. A step-by-step journey that I started with nothing but desire,” she said.

The lounge is renowned for its delicious serving of wet and dry pork that is either served with ugali and chips or as per a client’s choice.

It is also designed to serve clients coffee grown in the family farm where she intends to value add it and sell different specialty coffees ranging from latte, espresso, cappuccino, Mocha, and Americano that go for Sh200 a cup.

“Having grown up in a coffee farm, I had to incorporate it here and start value adding beans harvested from our farm through the laws and regulations are a bit rigid and limiting,” she said adding that she hopes with the new reforms in the sector, some of the laws can be relaxed.

“Like now, for me to process coffee for the lounge, I have to buy it from myself,” she said.

Opening a restaurant, while tens of others were closing shop, she says was a big risk she took but has been grateful it has paid off.

“This was a big gamble but the client flow has been overwhelming and I am grateful. Opening during the hard times will allow me to see where I need to improve when the pandemic eases,” Julie said.

Greatest challenge

In the future she hopes to offer accommodation and other utilities such as a car wash.

Her greatest challenge thus far has been closing the business early due to Covid-19 protocols.

“Let no one be discouraged by small beginnings. Every step matters,” she said.

Before opening the restaurant, she operated a coffee shop in Nyeri town in 2017 before closing shop to look after her ailing mother.

To get the restaurant up and running, she has spent almost Sh3.2 million, largely from her inheritance and savings from her previous job.