Friday, 7 April 2017

Mama Rocks: The burger babes of NBO

‘What do you fancy for lunch?’ asked the Boy. I knew exactly what I wanted. ‘I NEED a burger…let’s go to Mama Rocks’.

There’s a couple of reasons why I craved not just a big mouthful of meat, bread and side but specifically a Mama Rocks burger. Firstly, I LOVE this nook of solace in the middle of Westlands. When you enter the enclave, shrouded with palm leaf tress and funky coloured walls I feel like I’ve been transported back to Shoreditch in London, back to hipster heaven, aided by a big double decker DJ bus working cohesively with the Mama Rocks (MR) food truck. Secondly, the décor at MR’s is awesome with upscaled furniture, painted barrels acting as tables and picket fences giving it a playful Americana twist, working well with the delicious burgers we were about to devour.

A moment of honesty. I have eaten here before, but I feel it deserves a proper review on all levels of taste, texture, service and pleasure. We walked up to the van, onto the little raised platform and scoured the menu hungrily…so much choice! Did we want Beef and go for a Mango Masai Burger echoing an east African vibe, or go for Chicken and grab a West African influenced vibe by chomping into a Fela Supa. Or throw out the towel with a Veggie burger delight with the Falafel Djubalicious Burger. Then to put on top we had the choice to add homemade sauces of Garlic Lemon Mayonnaise or Hot Hot Pepper Sauce with a smattering of Harissa Paste as well (for just 20 bob!). The boy stared hungrily into the distance…and ordered a Sweet Beef Mother whilst I browsed the specials and ordered the Chicken 'Kuku Republic' special burger from the blackboard.

We took our seats, and sat in excitement remembering the joy of the burgers we engulfed last time. Our burgers arrived, nestled in cute plastic baskets, wrapped in uniquely designed wrappers with the Mama Rocks logo harking an individual African vibe enhanced by our surroundings and the crockery served from cut metal cans. We took a bite and paused. The Chicken special was covered in a panko style crumb, smothered in mayonnaise and fruity relish with flecks of rocket salad. The sauce combined with the fresh meat was made even better by the brioche bun the chicken patty resting between them which tasted sweet and had the perfect texture between crisp and light. The boy similarly grunted between mouthfuls of enveloping his burger, which I deciphered as 'the beef was ground well, perfectly sweetened with potatoes and worked amazingly well with the yoghurt smoothed on top'. He's so eloquent when eating...  

From us it received 10/10, 2 thumbs up, 100% on the taste sensation factor and the surroundings just added to the overall enjoyment of our lunch break in Westlands. For Nairobi residents, expats and passerby you’ll hopefully already be familiar with this well-loved brand that you may have similarly enjoyed at lunch, dinner, before a gig at Alchemist, ordering home on Yum or already stumbling out of the club. And if you haven’t, get out there because Mama Rocks has earned a place in our hearts, and even better in our tummies.


After reviewing the restaurant on Foodies Club Nairobi I asked the owners, Samantha Mwedekeli and Natalie Mwedekeli, for an interview to find out more about the brains behind these beautiful burgers. The sisters, originally from the UK opened up about the flavors, soul and spice coming out of Mama Rocks and their future expansion plans…

Where did the idea for Mama Rocks come from? 
We had been coming to Kenya on and off for the last 7 years and saw a developing growth in the restaurant industry. We saw international brands like Dominos and KFC here but nothing African. Of course you can go for Nyama choma but this still didn’t have an international African feel that you could grow here in Nariobi and export abroad. Therefore Mama Rocks was born out of the will of wanting to build something truly African from Africa itself. 

How have you incorporated Africa and Kenya into your brand? 
We wanted to change the perception of Africa, that it is about talent and growth. Originally we started with the idea of sandals and t-shirts selling them on Pettycoat Lane in London and tried to sell the items. We then thought that food would sell better, as food is universal. We chose burgers as they feel a easily recognisable –and we’ve used them as a tool to celebrate Africa! You can see this in the way we use different cuisines to represent different regions of Africa and Kenyan cuisine, flavours and spices. Mama Rocks also incorporated a 70’s retro vibe and revival of African culture with the colours and patterns we have used which the customer can see all the way down to the colourful plastic burger baskets to the funky custom designed wrappers. 

Where does the name Mama Rocks come from? 
Mama – culturally in Africa, the mother is heartbeat of the family, the backbone in society and the one who spends some hard hours cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Our own mother is from Nigeria and she cooked delicious home cooked meals as we were growing up. We still crave our Mums food here in Kenya! 

Rocks – this word incorporates everything that they wanted to celebrate that is great about Africa. This continent rocks and we are showing the community here what is great through some beefy delicious burgers 

Give us the inspiration behind your culinary delights… 
Our Mum inspired our pallets with her delicious Nigerian food and flavours. The Fela Supa Burger is peanut crusted, a common nut ingredient in West Africa and smothered with hot sauce. 
Our Dad is Kenyan and we’ve celebrated this beautiful country through many of our burgers and in addition their stories. The Mango Masaai Mama burger. It is said that the higher a Moran can jump, the less dowry he has to pay to his wife’s family. En-Kai could not jump! The family of the bride acquired 500 cattle and his prized Mango tree that grew the juiciest and sweetest mangos. To celebrate, the mother of the bride combined a feast of roasted beef (to symbolize their new found wealth) fresh mango sauce (to represent the yellow of the sun that brings happiness, fertility and growth) and roasted red peppers (red being the colour of the Shuka, a symbol of bravery strength and unity). 
And so, the Mango Masaai Mama was born. 

We tried out consulting with chefs but the feedback was so mixed. They told us to keep the flavours simple, don’t make things too spicy or complicated because Nairobi restaurant go-ers weren’t looking for that. We ignored that and instead followed our hearts, gained inspiration from our childhood cuisines and tested a lot on family and friends. 
The only challenge was that as we did a lot of research in the UK, we didn’t take into account how limited we’d be in Kenya when it came to different breads and cheeses, but it’s been part of the fun and we’ve made it work!

How did you find moving to Kenya? 
Moving here was very different to visiting here as teenagers when we were 14 (N) and 17 (S). (N) ‘Working here has a lot of frustrations and not everything is black and white, there’s a lot of grey that you have to get through but what comes out of it is truly unique! 
(S) ‘It’s not a lie…Meetings here take a long time. In the UK where we are from, meetings were to the point, meetings here are longer which is fine…it’s just different asking about the family, and the wife, and the home…’ 
We do love Kenya. It gave us the chance to start a new life and a business that we were passionate about. The cosmopolitan nature of the city and the number of entrepreneurs and creatives that we meet daily, people trying to do their own thing and make a mark. Its continually inspiring. 

What were the practicalities around the Mama Rocks food truck? 
There is no permit for what we have created – there’s no licence for a food truck, either you are a restaurant or outdoor catering and we didn’t really fit into either! We also had a big delay with our van…it was supposed to take 6 weeks and took 6 months! 

Did you consider any other markets? 
Kenya was so to us familiar as our father is Kenyan. Our Swahilli leaves a lot to be desired so we were comfortable here in a country where English is widely spoken. We have considered other parts of Africa. 
(S) ‘We have considered Nigeria, but food costs are very high and navigating the system would be quite time consuming. Also, getting beef in Nigeria is very difficult!’ 

What has been your favourite part of this experience? 
(N) I’ve loved receiving the feedback and the reaction to the brand. 
(S) People loving your idea, we are probably quite sheltered by what the outside market thinks because we are surrounded by the van and the food everyday, But when people are like ‘Hey that’s awesome’ you get a reminder as to what others think’. 

Where has your team come from? 
Our team of 9 has been a mixture of luck and recommendations. When we came up with the idea and the brand, we were looking for eccentric style customer service but Kenyan staff market is more chilled and relaxed though very friendly! Therefore we found a very happy medium between being cool but calm. 

Where are your products from? 
90% of sauces we make in house, and we get our bread from a special top secret baker…not so much of a secret is that our brother is the man behind the falafel burgers. He is the falafel king, because they are awesome and is very patient as chickpeas don’t play ball in Nairobi and he spends an amazing amount of time getting them right with love and devotion. 
Our cheese comes from Browns; The German Bakehouse supplied our pickles and a local Kenyan guy we found makes our honey and another man supplies our peanuts. 
We get our salads delivered every morning from a shamba on the outskirts of Nairobi. We’ve tried to keep things very local! 
Even our Papers and boxes were designed by a local Kenyan Graphic Design company and the napkinsare supplied by Chandaria industries. 

Where is your meat from? 
We get our fabulous patties and meats from Gourmet Meats in Yaya. All our meat is Boran and grass fed. We are thinking about fish burger but quality needs to be sourced first. 

What about your Make Good? 
We met Marianne, the owner of MakeGood at Organic Farmers market here at Alchemist and it was love at first bite! Her brownies are to die for! 

Who are your current clients? 
Our clients really change depending on the day, time, weather or the event that is going on at The Alchemist. 
We get a cool hipster Scene community of Social Trendy Kenyans – instagrammers and youthful blogging crowd. We are also very popular with the Asian community who recommend us to their family and then friends and then co-workers. We get a big group of expats as our brands feels familiar with what you could find in East London or New York as well. Our daytime trade with workers and office groups has also picked up as I think our price point is fair, its great to get outside and we have a unique space…and of course our burgers rock! 

What are your future hope for Mama Rocks? 
We are setting up a new space for Mama Rocks in Kilimani. Its setting up outdoor space, two containers and storage space on top with space for around 70 people. It’s also going to be a great base kitchen for our deliveries and have a cocktail bar. It’ll be a great relief for the van 
as well as we can start her on the road and also have more space so we can serve more lovely people! 

And finally, let’s talk about the van… 

You’ll be pleased to know the Van is 100% Made in Kenya. She was bought here in Kenya as just a cab front and then we had the Fibreglass unit built, and then the kitchen built by a company called Sheffield (sounds English, still Kenyan!) And best of all, all the design and graphics were done here in Kenya.

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