For a long time, Miriam Nabakwe has been passionate about healthy eating, a factor that compelled her to start her business, Kienyeji Store, which sells traditional vegetables, and has been since 2014.
“Most people have become conscious of what they eat and have a desire to eat traditional vegetables, but they either don’t have time to prepare it, or lack the know-how regarding the preparation process, which is labour intensive,” Miriam says.
With this gap in mind, she opened an outlet at Mall City, adjacent Yaya Centre in Kilimani, Nairobi, where she prepares and sells nutritious traditional foods and also sells precooked vegetables.
Though a success today, her start had a number of hitches, the first being the financial capital to actualise her dream.
“With no starting capital, I started small with some vegetables sent to me by my mother and a freezer bought through assistance from friends. My first clients were my friends,” says Miriam, a hotelier by profession.
The process of preparing such vegetables is time-consuming, unlike preparing vegetables such as cabbage and sukuma wiki. It typically requires one to sort, pluck, wash and chop, a process that many have no time for.
Miriam, who has perfected the art of preparing the special vegetables, says that she acquired the skill from her late grandmother. Growing up in western Kenya, Miriam has had the advantage of having access to a variety of vegetables.
She sources them from organic farms, mostly from Western Kenya, even though the business has also contracted farmers within Nairobi to grow organic vegetables. Before the vegetables are bought, she has to ascertain their quality.
Book in advance
Thereafter, her staff embarks on sorting and plucking and then giving them a thorough wash.
They are then chopped, cooked and packaged into one kilogram portions and then frozen, though customers are at liberty to book vegetables in advance. They also sell dried vegetables.
“We risk lifestyle diseases since many of us have adopted western cuisine and no longer eat the traditional foods our grandparents used to eat. It’s the forgotten foods that I am trying to revive, letting people know that they can still enjoy rich nutritious traditional foods in the city – I like to call it a village experience in the city, the kind of cooking you only get when you go back to the village, and one taught through generation to generation,”she says.
“Most of my clients are the elderly, those who miss these kinds of vegetables, only found in the rural areas, but they can now find them in town,” she says.
Others are parents who are keen to raise a generation that is healthy and health-conscious. Another group is those that love the vegetables but do not know how to prepare them.
When Covid-19 struck, it was a blessing in disguise for Miriam since that was the time when everybody was cautious of what they wanted to eat, keen to improve their immunity.
Challenges her business experienced is convincing potential customers that it is possible to acquire fresh unadulterated vegetables in Nairobi.
Another is consistent rise of commodity prices, which has increased the cost of running the business.
Miriam relies on word of mouth and social media to market her business, which has grown to employ over 20 people.
Though she has adequate help, she is actively involved in the preparation and cooking to ensure that the employees perfect their skill and that quality is not compromised.
“The skills required for this job are not taught in school, they are taught through apprenticeship,” she points out. Her prices range between Sh300 – Sh900.
She plans to move her business operation to a bigger space with proper restaurant seating, as well as start distributing her brand of Kienyeji vegetables to all the counties in the country.
If planning to go into business, Miriam advises diving right in and starting, focusing on one thing at a time, that money should not be a limitation.
“I haven’t taken a loan, so I haven’t accumulated debts. I have been selling and diligently ploughing back the profits into the business. Entrepreneurs should exercise lots of financial discipline to see their business grow,” she says.