Opening up a legit street food business in Nairobi does not come without its challenges, discovers Sylvia Kerubo during a decent interview with Shenaz Popat, the woman behind the successful “Street Bistro” truck
Shenaz Popat is a vibrant 65 year old lady whose passion for food made her quit her job as a banker to start a food truck business in Nairobi. Her first Street Bistro truck has been situated at the Alchemist for one and a half years now. She has since opened two more popular trucks, one at KICC and the other at Eaton Place, United Nation Crescent.
How do you manage to organise food preparation in a truck?
Although I currently manage three trucks, we do not prepare all the food in them. We have a central kitchen, on Peponi Road, where the food is prepared, packed then brought to the trucks where it is then frozen. We do not keep it for more than 2 days and so most of the food is supplied twice to thrice a week. When you order, the food is thawed, put in the frier/cooker and then served. Some food, however, like the sandwiches, are made fresh to order.
What’s the most popular dish?
My menu is tailor made to suit my different customers. At Alchemist, we have the bar bites, while at Eaton and KICC, people love the sandwiches so we cater more for their tastes. We are famous for our chips and our sauces and have a variety of chips which come covered in your choice of chicken, mushroom, beef or cheesy jalapeno.
How difficult is it to open a business of this kind in Kenya?
The process is quite tedious especially when getting the license and getting people to approve stuff. Surprisingly enough, the government has begun to change its attitude towards business people and they do not hassle us so much anymore. As long as you have the necessary documents needed, the City Council will give you a license. It is, however, very expensive.
What kind of challenges do you face?
When it rains we really lose sales, especially during lunch time. Although people still pass by in the evening.
What country has the best street food in your opinion?
Definitely Bangkok. I love Thai street food and have a passion for oriental flavours. Every time I visit the place I think: who wants to sit in a restaurant for 2-4 hours when you have so much to do on the street?
Locally, what is your favourite street food guilty pleasure?
I am a Nyama Choma girl. With kachumbari. I love ugali so much too. We have to eat it at least once a week in our house. Sometimes we make it at home and other times I order it from a restaurant.
Where do you hope to go with the Street Food Bistro?
I hope to build a brand and inspire more people to embrace the concept, since the food truck business is still new in Kenya.
Do you intend to open more trucks?
Of course, this has to be a brand! That said, before moving to other cities, I want to sweep Nairobi with my passion. I am not looking at spaces right now because my branch at KICC is still new and I want to work on growing it.
To what extent is Nairobi friendly to female food & beverage entrepreneurs?
People out there believe that men are better than women. Everywhere. It is a challenge we all face. But at the end of the day, we work hard and prove to them that we are just as good, and sometimes better than the men. We have more perseverance, more foresight, more understanding and we are more in tune with the world than the men are.