Your name and what do you do?
My name is Muhammad Nazir Khaki and I am currently the chef & owner of MNKafé
Tell us about your career path. How did you get your start? How and why did you open Mnkafé?
My inspiration is my mother – I would watch her in the kitchen from a very young age, and I was always interested in the science of food. Sounds like a big thing, but what I mean is I loved how things came together to create something new. She loved cooking and I could see that clearly whenever she was in the kitchen – always focused, intent, and did not like disturbances. I never knew I’d be the same while in the kitchen many years later, but those qualities are what brought me to where I am. I started cooking at the age of nine. It has been a long, tedious path, but when you have a family that supports you, and friends that encourage you, nothing else matters.
What advice can you give to those who would like to open a restaurant of their own someday? How can they get from Point A (thinking about an education) to Point B (being a restaurant owner)?
I never gave up. I dreamt – and then dreamt some more. I looked around, studied, experienced, focused, and finally, aimed. This is a whole lot more than education; it is an experience. I took courses in University that fulfilled the end result of what I wanted. Business education, marketing, food and nutrition. Finally, I took the plunge and enrolled in culinary school. I must admit, there were times I lost hope or swayed from my focus because everything required finances; but I always brought myself together in the end, and even though it took longer than I wanted, I did not give up.
As an employer, what kinds of degrees, certifications and experience do you look for in new hires?
Honestly, I don’t look primarily at degrees. You see, my love and passion for food started at a very young age. Experience is not always crucial for new hires, but it is an added bonus. You can always train your staff based on requirements of the business, as each business operates along different paths and goals. Sometimes, I have found, too much experience brings in a cookie cutter sort of personality – the unwillingness to change. But what I look for is passion – that spark in you – to work in a service oriented industry. I do admit I am very particular and very strict as far as service and quality. I won’t give that up for anything – even if it means hiring 10 people to do the same job over and over. Until it is done the way it should be, I am satisfied.
True, I get a lot of employee turnover – and this is due to my professional and ethical demands – but it is all part of the process. Those who are loyal, I reciprocate in return, but again, it is quite daunting to go through the process over and over. Worth it, but daunting.
Unfortunately, I find that Mombasa in particular lacks focused, young individuals. It does not say much about our future, but the driving force of a good economic climate is lacking, partly due to the scarcity of dedicated young people who do not seem to have aspirations beyond that of getting by for the day.
Is social Media marketing receptive in Mombasa?
It is very receptive, and it has helped tremendously. However, I have realized that the fine print is taken lightly – it is more the presentation that matters to the consumer. It’s not always a good thing for that to happen because consumers tend to miss out on the details, and so, may get disappointed because they haven’t read it thoroughly. Because of this, I have had to change my strategy in marketing on social media here in Mombasa. But in general, it has helped tremendously over the years.
What are some of the challenges of being a restaurant owner and manager?
Challenges can be faced across the board in any business. For a restaurant owner however, the two primary challenges I feel are, hiring people who share the same views and passion, consistency of available products in Mombasa. Despite that, if you have the stamina, the passion, and above all, the vision, then it won’t matter what kind of challenges you have in your journey – you learn to navigate the route on your own.
One way to overcome minor challenges is never to rely wholly on others; BUT accept their experiences, learn from their wisdom, consider their thoughts, graciously view their criticisms; and even though in the end you are the captain of your ship, don’t look down on what others think. Learn from it, no matter their age – older or younger. Finally, I cannot stress this enough – always listen to your customers, especially those who frequent you the most. True, owning a restaurant or café is not easy – just like being a pilot or a doctor. It takes a lot of your time and there are sacrifices you need to make along the way.
What is the most popular meal at Mnkafé?
This is quite difficult to state in general. A cross section reveals that some items are just as equally popular as others. However, we are known for our waffles that put us in the spotlight, even though we started with cupcakes.
Tell us about some of your specials?
If you’re referring to offers – then we single out 2 days of the week. Waffle Wednesdays, which has been ongoing for more than 2 years, is by far the most popular. Smash Burger Thursdays which began recently, has caught on quite well. We hope to provide more offers in the future. Details on both these offers can be found on our website at www.mnkafe.com
Where do you see Mnkafé ten years from now?
4 years back, I did not see MNKafé where it is today. Don’t get me wrong – I had a vision to provide the best of foods and services, and that is still my goal. When I see people enjoying themselves at the café, there’s a fleeting aura of satisfaction, accomplishment, and joy. In the near future, I see MNKafé a haven for people who enjoy good food, a good environment, and good company. I plan to further accelerate the quality and type of products as well as provide the best of services for as long as I can. As for the rest, I leave it to God. I don’t know where I will be, honestly, but that’s as far as I can go.
But here’s what I feel today – when I see my guests come in, enjoy what we offer, talking, laughing – could there be any greater sense of satisfaction than that, as far as your business is concerned?
Sacrifices are but a stepping stone to your goals. Never stop and think you’ve accomplished a lot. Always be innovative and unique in your own natural way. Always listen. Always analyze. And remember, errors are not a hindrance; they are just some of the blocks that help build your bridge – how you build it, is up to you. I have learnt more in the 4 years of my business than in 25 years of being employed – even though I brought quite a bit of experience when I started.