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Dream to business: Mum’s nurturing hand in chic eatery

Moroccan pizza a
Madame Connoisseuse Moroccan pizza and I'm Blue cocktail at Cafe Kaya, Viking House, Westlands. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Mothers are innately nurturers and Mary Kiarie’s visible hand in turning her son’s childhood passion into a thriving business is the embodiment of that role.

What started out as a Sunday afternoon cooking hangout when Kimani Kiarie was a child is today a chic restaurant at Kilimani’s Galana Plaza called 5 Senses.

“When I was younger my mum used to bake a lot. Sundays were usually when I’d finish up on my homework as she baked. But I would get distracted by the sweet aroma and help her instead of doing my homework. That is where my interest in cooking came from,” says Kimani.

He says is passion for cooking was so unwavering that by the time he joined secondary school, he knew that being a chef was his only path in life.

“When everyone else was so focused on being a doctor or a lawyer I had decided I would be a chef,” he says with a nostalgic smile.

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So eager was he to live his dream that he contemplated quitting school and starting a cafe to sell mandazi.

But Mary, talked him out of it, pointing out that the formal school system still had a lot to contribute in shaping him into the best cook he could become.

“She said no way, just finish school. For me it was just about selling mandazi. I never saw the bigger picture. For her it was like you need to learn how to cost your food, to perform different operations. That is how I ended up finishing school and going into a local culinary school,” says Kiarie.

Not wanting to limit his culinary taste bud to the local scene, Mary enrolled Kimani in schools in Switzerland and France to learn from globally renown chefs.

After working for a while in Doha, he, together with his fiancée Sharon Kigwe who he met while in culinary school in Switzerland, decided to come back to Kenya and set up a restaurant. It was something they had dreamt and talked about for some time.

And so naturally Kimani turned to the one person who had nurtured his dream for help in actualising their vision.

“He really wanted to do something without the constraint of answering to people above him who do not have his vision or his technique,” Mary says.

“We had a discussion the three of us. They had already designed the restaurant on heir own. I just came in as a support. I purposed that just as I supported their education I would support the beginning of their business,” says Mary who sees her role in the venture as that of an auditor.

“I ask questions. I provoke thought. I may not know every detail of the business, but by asking questions,” she says giving the example of a dessert week offering that proved a hit with their customers after she pushed for its introduction.

Mary’s attention to detail and reception to novel ideas may just give 5 Sense the edge it needs to stand out from the many restaurants in Kimani competing for customers with an appreciation of ‘finer foods’.

To avoid stepping on each others’toes, Kimani is the chief chef overseeing a team of six cooks. Sharon runs the front and while Mary oversees the business functions.

Mary goes to the restaurant every night even though she has what may be considered as a lot on her plate running her own law firm, being a director in several companies as well as supporting her husband in the family business.

She’s particularly brought her influence to bear by managing relationships with partner firms and suppliers.

Every day as they watch their dream rake form, Kimani and Sharon can’t help but marvel.

“Sometimes we look back and then we are like we are actually doing it. We used to always make jokes like one day we will open a restaurant and now here it is,” says Sharon.

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