The rise of mobile eateries in face of changing times
Patrick Ndahana, a Rwandan national in Mombasa, leaves his home every afternoon with a transparent bucket full of doughnuts in one hand and two flasks of hot coffee on the other.
Ndahana came to Kenya in pursuit of green pastures only to find himself in the middle of Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
To make ends meet, he started to supply coffee and Swahili-made doughnuts popularly known as ‘mandazi’ around Mombasa Central Business District (CBD). And in just a few weeks into the business, he started to receive orders from construction workers, office executives and shop owners around town.
“I prepare the food at my house and later supply to offices, construction sites and to new people I meet along the way,” he says
Ndahana, like many others, runs a business called ‘ghost restaurants’. These are restaurants that only offer food via delivery and at a cheaper price.
Initially, to set up an eatery, one needed to get a rented shop, license and business permit from various authorities. But the ‘ghost restaurants’ don’t have brick-and-mortar locations where you can dine-in or sometimes even pick up. They typically run out of commercial kitchens, so the focus is on food preparation and order fulfillment, rather than an experience.
The food of the vendors bear no brands, and are delivered at a lower price than the hotel and restaurants prepared meals.
Two years later, Ndahana says he has no regret whatsoever since he comfortably pays his rent, meets his needs and supports his family in Rwanda. He, however, says making good profits is not easy as he has to work extra hard to beat his colleagues who are in the same business.
“The business is profitable, but has a stiff competition. I sell the smallest cup of coffee at Sh10 and the biggest at Sh20 while a mandazi goes for Sh10. If I choose to raise the prices of my commodities, my customers will shift to my colleagues who are selling at a lower price,” Ndahana says.
A construction worker in Mombasa, Leonard Otieno, recommends the business saying it is cost efficient and healthy, saying he has not heard of any health condition for eating the food.
“My lunch costs me just Sh80. If you go to a restaurant for the same meal, the plate goes for Sh300. Additionally, they save us a lot of time. These days we don’t walk to the kiosks, we just place orders and the food is delivered,” he says.
Ali Juma* is a co-owner of Dida food kiosk in Nyali Sub County. He concurs, saying the food delivery business has boosted the sales of their cafe compared to when they only had people coming to the eatery.
Dida kiosk has five workers including Ali and his wife. They start cooking as early as 5am before orders start coming in.
“The calls and messages sometimes start as early as 8am, for those taking breakfast. This means I must check my WhatsApp messages, SMSs and calls for me to process the orders,” he says.
“My wife and I had to look for a way out after the government issued a directive in 2020 that all eateries should close down to curb the spread Covid-19. Honestly, since we started service delivery we have not looked back, we wish we had used this method earlier,” he says.