Success Story May 07, 2022 at 09:00 am

How this refugee couple fled Burundi to open Detroit’s first East African restaurant

Abu Mubarik May 07, 2022 at 09:00 am

May 07, 2022 at 09:00 am | Success Story

Baobab Fare is owned and operated by Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba. Photo: Baobab Fare

Married couple Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere run the Baobab Fare, an East African restaurant based in Midtown, Detroit. Named after the Tree of Life, Baobab Fare is Detroit’s first East African restaurant. The restaurant offers authentic East African dishes and people can’t get enough of its Burundi coffee, hot sauce and fruit juice.

Last year when Baobab Fare opened, the couple announced that the restaurant will also be a juice bar and market for people who need East African groceries and other retail items.

“We are proud to open our doors and bring East African cuisine and culture to our community,” Mamba told Michigan Chronicle following the opening of the restaurant. “Baobab Fare is more than a restaurant; it is a gathering place where all are welcomed and embraced. Detroit is our new home.”

The couple started Baobab Fare after fleeing Burundi — one of the world’s poorest countries struggling to emerge from civil war — in search of new life in the United States in 2014. When they arrived in America, they sought refuge at Freedom House, a nonprofit based in Detroit that provides a temporary home for asylum seekers.

The idea to start Baobab Fare came after Mamba underwent an entrepreneurship training program with ProsperUs. At the time, Mamba and his wife were finding it difficult to get a job with their degrees. “It was hard to get a job in Detroit,” Mamba said. “We didn’t have asylum, and we were trying to see how we can stay here. So we [said], let’s try it out. Either we go to school or start business.”

In 2017, they became the recipient of Comerica’s Hatch Detroit Contest and got $50,000 in seed money to help start the business.

“Nadia and Mamba are an inspiration and ProsperUs is honored that our services and capital helped bring Baobab Fare to life,” said Chanell Scott Contreras, executive director, ProsperUS. “We couldn’t be more excited to see this business add to the richness and diversity of Detroit.”

Prior to opening Baobab Fare, Detroit had other African-owned restaurants but they were all skewed towards West African dishes. Nijimbere told Forbes that food from East Africa is spicier and more vegetable-based than that found in West Africa.

“We didn’t see any East African restaurants around here,” said Mamba, whose family owned a restaurant back in Burundi. “And so that is how the idea started.”

Starting Baobab did not come easy. The parents of eight-year-old twin girls made all the necessary preparations to launch the restaurant in 2020 when the pandemic struck. This subsequently slowed the opening of the restaurant. Baobab Fare finally opened its doors in February 2021.

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