A passion for great food and a gap between fast food and high-end dining in the Kenyan restaurant space motivated the Mwedekeli sisters to found Mama Rocks, a casual dining concept that pioneered an afro-cool food truck in the Nairobi street food scene. Influenced by the burger phenomenon that in the recent past swept London where they grew up, Samantha and Natalie have formed a range of gourmet burgers and special sauces. Gourmet is synonymous with high quality foods made with passion, using rich and distinct flavours and their exciting menu is true to this. Mama Rocks Gourmet Burgers are made with a bigger beef patty than the ‘ordinary’ and highly-processed fast food burger, using specific beef cuts and expensive bread. All the ingredients they use to make their burgers and sauces are fresh and locally-sourced.
The brand’s name was inspired by their mother’s cooking which from their childhood memories they say ‘rocked’. The burgers are ‘African’ as they are inspired by different regions of the continent, each created with a personality and spice based on its region of origin: the Mango Maasai Mama beef burger by East Africa; the Fela Supa chicken burger by West Africa; and the lamb burger Souq It To Me by North Africa. Mama Rocks also has a range of veggie burgers which have been well received in the market. The Djubalicious Veggie Burger, a fusion of pan-African flavours is surprisingly meat-lover Natalie’s favourite. The Mama Rocks menu also includes the sides chicken wings, fries and plantain; desserts and shakes; and cold drinks.
The Mama Rocks food truck has been termed the “first of its kind in Nairobi” by eater.com. It is on a regular day stationed at the Yard also known as The Alchemist Bar on Parklands Road in Westlands, Nairobi. It can also be found at the heart of social events in Nairobi such as Blankets and Wine, Thrift Social and Koroga Festival. Mama Rocks also serves foodies with deliveries within a 5kms radius of Westlands through its partners Hello Food. In addition, the truck caters for private parties and corporate functions of at least 300 people.
Describing their entrepreneurial journey, the sisters say dealing with government office workers as they tried to get the necessary licences as the most challenging aspect about setting up their business. Suppliers have also been a hard nut to crack. From their experience, nobody is in a rush to deliver which can get very frustrating. Alongside the great food, Mama Rocks aspires to be a platform for artistic talent. They intended to have their uniforms created by a rotation of up-and-coming Kenyan designers as they see art as the ultimate medium for self-expression. This was however not to be as the contacted designers failed to deliver in the agreed time period.
Mama Rocks has never had a marketing campaign and credits the brand’s awareness and success to word of mouth, their scrumptious food and customer service as well as actively engaging their customers on social media.
Nairobi’s restaurant scene is currently experiencing a boom with international brands including one of the largest fast food hamburger chains in the world, Burger King setting up shop. Mama Rocks is holding its own against competition from such entities by maintaining its quirky identity and customized, made-to-order burgers with fresh and organic ingredients.
On whether their investment has paid off almost two years since they started their business, the Mwedekeli sisters say they are breaking even. Though they are careful not to become a run-of-the-mill, commercial, mass market restaurant, the sisters born to a Nigerian mother and Kenyan father would like to go pan-African then export their brand to the West so that it emerges as an African brand that can compete with Western brands. Samantha says she wants to see “Mama Rocks in Lagos, in London, in New York NOW”. When the time is right, Mama Rocks plans on inviting investors to go the franchise way to expand outside Kenya but with a keen eye not to lose the brand’s unique edge. For now, Mama Rocks is preparing to open a restaurant in Nairobi’s Hurlingham area to complement its food truck which with its 16 employees will remain at its location when it is not roving the capital’s social scene.
“There will be many obstacles in your journey to entrepreneurship” the sisters advice African youth thinking about setting up their own enterprises. However, with the passion for what they want to embark on- they will survive and thrive, Samantha and Natalie add!