Zimbabwe's booming restaurant scene

By Andrew Mambondiyani
Harare, Zimbabwe

  • Published
A meal at Gava's Restaurant, chicken, beans, sadza, and green vegetablesImage source, ALlen Gava
Image caption,
A typical chicken dish at Gava's Restaurant in Harare

The aroma of fried chicken drifts enticingly from Shupikai Muyambo's cafe, making your tummy rumble.

Located in Chipinge, a small farming town near Zimbabwe's border with Mozambique, Padera Restaurant enjoys a busy trade.

Customers flock to eat its chicken, beef or fish, served with rice or sadza (a thick cornmeal porridge), with prices ranging from between $1 (64 pence) and $2 (£1.28) a plate.

Ms Muyambo, 27, opened the cafe last year, and currently employing three people, she is about to take on more staff to keep up with demand.

In a country where the economy has now been in the doldrums for the past 15 years, and where government figures last year showed that just 376,000 people were in formal employment, you would imagine that most of Zimbabwe's 14 million population can only dream of going out for a meal.

Yet while Zimbabwe is undoubtedly impoverished, and earnings are low, a further 5.9 million people are in employment, scratching a living working informally, either for themselves, or small firms which aren't officially registered.

Image caption,
Informal food stalls are increasing in number across the country

And eating out has never been more popular in the country, with a growing number of food outlets springing up, from roadside shacks to more formal restaurants.

Ms Muyambo says: "Competition in this sector is very stiff, but we realised that even with the economic challenges people still need to eat.

"I get at least $150 [profit] per month after deducting all expenses".

Power cuts

In the capital Harare, another restaurauteur enjoying good business is 41-year-old Allen Gava, who owns the eponymous Gava Restaurant.

A former fruit and vegetable wholesaler, he started in the restaurant business back in 2013 in one of Harare's more prosperous neighbourhoods.

Image source, ALlen gava
Image caption,
Allen Gava's restaurant is more upmarket than most in the country

Now employing 10 full-time and five part-time employees Mr Gava says: "We have built a solid customer base, and now have many regular customers who eat with us three or four times a week."

With dishes costing as much as $10, and a large garden for outside eating, Gava Restaurant is certainly more upmarket than most.

While Mr Gava won't reveal how much money he makes, he says that his monthly turnover is "enough to pay salaries, cover expenses, and make a profit".

Yet despite his success Mr Gava says that all restaurants in Zimbabwe continue to face a number of problems.

"It is hard to find certain supplies for the restaurant," he says.

Image source, ALlen Gava
Image caption,
Gava's Restaurant has a large area for outside dining
Image source, ALlen Gava
Image caption,
Gava Restaurant also allows parents to enjoy a peaceful meal while their children play elsewhere

"We are also experiencing power cuts, which affect our cooking, and we are spending more money on generator fuel."

Other Zimbabwean restaurant owners have tried to alleviate the problem of supply shortages by rearing their own animals, or growing their own vegetables.

Husband and wife team Alexander and Shumirai Mujuru are just such people.

Since 2009 they have run a fast-food outlet in Zimbabwe's rural Buhera district in the east of the country, at a transit hub for truck drivers and long-distance buses.

To ensure they have enough chickens, they rear them on a nearby farm. And they arrange to buy potatoes from local farmers.

Mr Mujuri adds: "We value good relationships with customers, and we are also hands on."

'Ready market'

Independent economist Vince Musewe says that restaurants in Zimbabwe can generally be successful if they keep their prices down.

"Despite the hardships, people still have to eat, and you will find most food outlets sell cheap food. For $1 you can have a decent lunch."

Image source, Andrew Mambondiyani
Image caption,
Mr and Mrs Mujuru rear their own chickens for their cafe

He adds: "More people are doing their businesses on the streets, as opposed to formal employment, and these informal traders provide a ready market for cooked food."

Meanwhile a recent report by StartupBiz Zimbabwe, a private organisation which provides information on how to start and grow a business in the country, suggests that entrepreneurs are setting up food outlets because of the low start-up costs.

It estimates that while it can cost between $1,000 to $5,000 to launch a restaurant in downtown Harare, the price falls to just $200 to set up a small food stall on the outskirts of the city centre.

And while the power cuts that bedevil Zimbabwe inevitably cause restaurants big difficulties, in other ways they help restaurants, because people choose to eat out in the evening rather than sit at home in the dark.

Some consumers even find that if they go to a cheap takeaway they can spend less on food than if they were making it for themselves at home.

Nyasha Mukundi, a 29-year-old mother of two, says: "I finish work at around 6pm, and arrive home at around 7pm, and most of the days there will be no electricity at home.

"Instead I buy takeaway food everyday on my way home from work. It's cheaper too."