The United States of America is often referred to as the “land of opportunities”. From across the world, people migrate to the North American country annually with the hope of building their lives. However, nothing comes on a silver platter, one has to work hard to ensure his or her success. While some may fail, others have managed to transform dreams into reality. One such person is Jane Wanjiru Kagira.
She is the proprietor of Safari Njema Restaurant, a hotel based in Seattle, Washington, that serves cuisines from East Africa. The eatery is located right off Ranier Avenue, in Columbia City, Seattle.
During an interview on Daring Abroad with Alex Chamwada in 2019, Wanjiru revealed that she had run the hotel for over 8 years at the time.
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“My restaurant is known for the perfect Kenyan food that we cook here. Our signature is the fish and the goat, and everything is cooked on order. So when you come to the Safari restaurant, you are willing to wait because you are getting home food, but cooked away from home,” Wanjiru said.
Miles away from Kenya, she treats the people to exquisite Kenyan cuisines. The restaurant sells fresh tilapia, matoke, sukuma wiki, mukimo, among others. They sell their foods in combos as ordered by the customers.
Wanjiru’s hotel attracts a lot of clients, some on phone orders, others just walk in. The word of mouth has also contributed immensely to the growth of Safari Njema Restaurant.
“Wazungus come here also and they eat Ugali and Mukimo. I think it is because of the University of Washington. They have two clinics, one in Kisumu and another in Nairobi. They bring people here and there are so many that are familiar with Kenyan food and they come here all the time,” she says.
For a section of people, Safari Njema is not just a regular eatery, it is an important meeting place and connects them to their motherland.
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“It is not everyday that I walk into a restaurant and I am able to order matumbo, sukuma wiki. It connects me to Kenya,” Daniel Karuga, a resident of Seattle told Chamwada.
Wanjiru revealed that she travels to Kenya often. This is where she gets all their spices.
“Sukuma wiki, we buy from a Mexican store and I have a way of making it good. I mix it with french spinach. Ugali, we also buy from a Mexican store,” she revealed.
To start a restaurant in Seattle, Wanjiru noted that all one needs is the licences (business and health licences), premise, and address.
Wanjiru arrived in the US in 1990, and worked as a care giver for 15 years. She worked through an agency called McDonald Agency, taking care of elderly people in their homes.
She used to work as a caterer during weekends and due to her skills, people pushed her to open the restaurant.
“The first thing I did was go back to school. I stopped doing the catering and went back to school for one year. Soon after that, it took me 6 months to open this restaurant,” Wanjiru stated.
She revealed that she had learned how to cook Kenyan cusines from her mother who also worked in the hospitality industry and even operated her own restaurants.
Wanjiru opened her restaurant in 2010, and since then, she has seen her establishment grow both in numbers and popularity.
“We serve over 100 people a day. Friday is our busiest day and we can serve over 300 people on that day and during the weekends. Surprisingly most of my clients are Muslims, I don’t know if it is because I bought the business from a Muslim so they continued coming, but I have to make sure my goat is halal, so I buy it from a wholeseller who is also Islam,” she narrated.
During the weekends, she does a lot of deliveries and also does catering for churches. There is a number of Kenyan churches in the area.
She notes that her love for Kenya motivated her to succeed in her business. The walls of her establishment are covered with images of Kenya’s former presidents including the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Wanjiru notes that the key to succeeding in the US is hard work, failure to which life can be tough on people.