OP-ED: When you talk about indigenous companies in the Catering and Hospitality space, the name Kembabazi Catering Centre can not miss out on that list in one way or the other.
This year, the brand will be celebrating four decades since it’s inception and Abraham MUTALYEBWA had a one on one rendez-vous with Ms. EMILY KWEZI and Mr. MOSES BYARUGABA, the directors of the KEMBABAZI who shared the business’s Journey and plans ahead of their 40th Anniversary .
1. You are celebrating 40 years of dedicated service in this business , congratulations upon this step! What has been that sparking factor?
We started in 1982, and this year is when we mark 40 years but unfornatunately our mother, the founder the late Eleanor Kembabazi Byarugaba, is not here it marks four year since she passed on.
Remember, it started off from one single room in Wandegeya to what it is today though the journey has not been smooth but we have managed to navigate through the storm and this has been majorly due to persistence, perseverance and being able to grow a loyal customer base whom we have been able to connect with on several levels not just on the food but a personal basis.
Initially the business was built around her personality, character which later extended into her cooking burgers, ” Kigere” or cow hooves , french fries among others.
Her personality was captivating but also the food. She was able to build the business around those factors and expand it to a bigger dream that is beyond as you can see.
We are also consistent and keep up with whatever we are doing and maintain for instance; if you came here yesterday, we will make sure you get the similar or better service in the next two years. We are also going with the trend and are always keeping relevant by listening to what the customers are saying, what they wish for, make changes and adjust to their needs. For us, It is more of food on a plate but i is the love and passion on the plate.
2. As a company, what achievements are you really proud of for the last four decades?
As a brand, we are grateful and proud of a loyal customer base over the years. We have been able to maintain it because of the consistency . Being able to provide from farm to table especially things like vegetables and fruits.
Built relationships with several partners, vendors, clients as well as celebrating their life’s journeys of most families from birthdays, baptisms, graduations , weddings anniversaries which is a whole generation that speaks volumes.
Additionally, we have touched lives of many such as campusers while we were still at Wandegeya and others. 40 years in business is a long time and that alone is a privilege.
Furthermore, the facility has become a landmark for those coming around this side and that alone tells you that there is trust and consistency.
3.Making that stride as a solid business in the catering and hospitality space is no mean feet. What message do you have for those looking out to join this line of venture?
Well, restaurant business is all about hospitality which entails customer service, quality and consistency. For instance, if I come and eat my ” Kigere ” when I come back next week I expect it to taste the same or even better because of the new cooking trends.
Ability to evolve with time since seasons change and one has to be agile because people’s tastes keep changing and the world keeps moving. There are local and international clients and you must be able to work on them well.
It will require a lot of patience because there will be ups and downs and one should not quit quickly and jump to other ventures in a short time.They will lose track and the lessons they could have learnt in previous engagements.
Notably, one should follow market trends, listen to criticism because not all of them are bad and some are to guide them on what the clients need or want.
4. One of the things we can not forget as a generation is COVID- 19. What are those tenets you embraced due to the pandemic that have put the business to the next level in one way or the other ?
With the pandemic which was a global phenomenon came with a lot of things. It forced companies like us to re- modify and one of the things was to build our online presence for our services and this was through making orders online, adding more information on the website and improving our service delivery.
Currently our website is very comprehensive and talks about services we offer, history of the company, the menu among other things. We also had to do soul searching in regards to upping the game interms of hygiene, washing hands and following standard operating procedures became very paramount.
We had to train our employees and had to walk the talk by making sure they were vaccinated among other things. We also realised if a person came to the actual facility for a service, we made sure the food appears in the same way on their dining table or any other place they were in.
The team improved on the packing, online systems,delivery channels and brought out the fact that change can happen any time and so fast since no one was ready for it but what mattered most was how we handled the situation that created the difference.
5. How have you been able to keep up with the trends and keep in business at the same time?
Here is the thing, competition is healthy and allows you to see what other people are doing and it weeds out those who cannot sustain and it is natural.
The fact that we have been in business for 10, 20, 30, and 40 years. It means that competition comes and we are able to persevere. We are agile as I told you and have been able to stay in business this long.
Fast foods pop up around and beyond, it does not affect us because we have our loyal clients whose needs we have met and that is what we need. It does not matter because competition is as and we need it.
6. What are some of the activities you have Iined up as you celebrate 40 years of customer satisfaction and great service delivery?
Actually, we are now in the process and our target is October and November. As a build up, we are looking at doing monthly events like commemoration, celebration, cooking events but it is something that is in development right now to the anniversary and even beyond.
There are no plans of closing shop after 40 years even when we are not here it has to continue. We are going to put the message out there to attract more customers and also inform the public since some are not aware about what is going on here though some have heard about Kembabazi but really don’t know what is going on here. They always pass around and others say we didn’t know there was a saloon, spa, massage parlour, yoga, farm market and other things. We are going to keep enlightening them about this message and not stopping.
7.There are few indigenous companies that have celebrated these years of existence. I’m aware it hasn’t been a walk in the park, how have you been able to navigate some of the uphill tasks?
This has not been a walk in the park for sure and there is no success without failure. You learn from mistakes that you went through, you retool, make improvements and finally succeed, so failure is part of success and these two go together.
We have been able to focus on what our clients want other than focusing on competition like the way most are doing and this has kept us in business since we are relevant and minding most on how to remain relevant to them which is complimented by being patient , consistency among others things.
8. What are some of the ways you are looking at so that we can come back here after the next 40 years or more?
The focus is on improving day by day and looking at infrastructure developments.
We are also preparing and positioning our place not only for this generation but also for the next generation which doesn’t come easy because of challenges but heading towards that direction.
Of late, times have also changed and people are becoming health conscious which plays in our delivery also focusing on farm to table concepts, ingredients and also creating dishes that match our customer needs like Salads, smoothies and many others.
9.What other ventures are in place to compliment the the catering business since the hospitality space is broadening?
There are a lot of additional services such as; sauna, massage, spa, children games and parties, work out area, yoga and looking at teaming up with various vendors like tour operators, institutions offering outside catering services.
We also have games for children and adults in that, it is a wrap for everyone in the family and getting into accommodation in the near future.
Kembabazi is known for our in-house indigenous and organic products and one of them is our Bushera made and packed here, we have chilli that comes in various forms that include; powder, paste and oil. We manufacture ghee or butter, eshaabwe, salad cream, honey which is unfiltered and unprocessed so it is totally organic, spices and many other things and looking forward to getting the Uganda National Bureau of Standards Certification so that we can roll out on a big scale.
10. What are those new offers that are available as the brand celebrates it’s 40th anniversary that some of the customers should take advantage of?
We are going to put across a massive campaign on various media platforms for instance; social media, radio stations and TVS that our customers should be ready to check out since we want to thank them but also invite others.
11. Do you have any community engagements as part of CSR in regards to giving back to the areas around you?
We had a social economic impact where we give back to community and provide meals to orphans, family assistance incase one of us gets a hardship in employment, bereavement, mass meals to those in Naguru slums, tuition for those in position not to pay, and also some of our customers send their domestic workers for cooking lessons.
12. What are your parting shots and message that you want to share out there?
I don’t think that people have really appreciated what Kembabazi has to offer. There is much more available and this is only possible if they come and see for themselves since the company has grown, evolved and flourished even with our mum’s passing away. As the children we are taking it to the next level because she taught us very well.
Our potential is so much and we need to attract the younger generation because there is still a mind set that when you say Kembabazi they relate it to mature ones which is not true and they should come and pertake of it as well.