In Nairobi, Only Two Organic Restaurants Serve Four Million People

In Nairobi, Only Two Organic Restaurants Serve Four Million People

By Isaac Mwangi and Anne Kiruku

Cecilia Muthengi walks into Healthy Foods Restaurant for her mid-morning tea and snacks, and returns two hours later for lunch. She is one among a host of Nairobi city office workers who faithfully flock to this particular restaurant for their meals.

Healthy Foods Restaurant on Kimathi Street is one of only two restaurants in Nairobi that strictly serve organic foods. However, with over four million people, the demand for healthy organic foods in the city is growing with each passing day.

The owner of Healthy Foods, Mark Kariuki, was the first entrepreneur to tap into the organic foods market in the capital. He ventured into the little known business due to a desire to encourage city dwellers to eat healthy and avoid falling prey to the growing cases of lifestyle diseases.

“High chemical residual levels in food crops due to the use of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides to control and manage pests and crop diseases are the major causes of lifestyle diseases,” said Kariuki. Inorganic fertilizers have also been reported to lead to excess chemical residues in food crops.

The World Environmental Protection Agency has reported that 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides and 30 percent of insecticides used to control and manage weeds, pathogens and insects are carcinogenic. The EU recently imposed strict restrictions on agricultural exports to their jurisdiction, with strict maximum chemical residual levels. Any failure to meet those regulations leads to destruction of the products – at the exporter’s cost.

“I am very conscious of what I eat. Previously, I used to carry packed food to work because I could not find a restaurant that served organic foods,” added Muthengi, who also said she rarely ate at any other restaurants.

The requirements for one to invest in such a business are not many, said Kariuki. “It is easy to get suitable premises within the city center. Health licenses, catering levy registration and other legal requirements by local authorities are also easy to fulfill. Labor is cheap, too, since there are many qualified chefs.”

Most of the Healthy Foods clients are adults above the age of 30. Mwangi Wamwea, the restaurant manager, explains that most of his regular clients are people who are conscious of what they eat. Some have certain health conditions like diabetes, arthritis and hypertension; others are conscious of their weight and want to shed excess fat.

Kenwood House, where Healthy Foods Restaurant is located, opens for business Mondays to Saturdays — and is always packed to capacity. Wamwea says that he makes a “decent” profit, which he was not willing to disclose. Judging by the customer traffic during the two-hour interview, that’s obviously a tidy sum.