“Aki ukipata mahali si uniokolee, siku hizi hii place inakuanga imetulia, sana sana weekdays. Hakuna biashara.”
‘If you find a place where they are looking for new hires please let me know. These days this club is normally quiet. Especially on weekdays.’
These were sentiments shared by Jane*. She works in one of Nairobi’s populous clubs.
I bumped into Jane on a Wednesday night. She works at the club, as a bathroom attendant.
Since that day was not particularly busy, Jane decided to take a nap, quite literally sleeping on the job.
Upon asking her why she was napping during work hours, Jane explained to me how business at the club hadn’t been particularly booming.
“On weekdays, a club is lucky to get more than 10 people coming in. Fridays are still the most popular days for club-goers, but the numbers have reduced,” she said.
After visiting a few more clubs in the CBD on random days of the week, it was clear the club business hasn’t been doing too well, with only a handful of people on a given weekday.
The hype and allure of Nairobi CBD clubs seems to be in a downward spiral evidenced by the recent closure of the popular Tribeka.
Dennis Kimani, a club patron I met on one of the nights out said most club-goers are opting to drink closer to home due to the convenience.
“Most guys prefer sipping either at home or close to their residence due to alcoblow so more popular clubs are coming up around residential areas,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by Pubs Entertainment and Restaurants Association of Kenya (Perak) executive officer Eunice Ogea adding that leasing space and rent in the CBD is much higher driving club-owners to open joints closer to home.
Tough regulations governing the industry such as the Tobacco law which require one to have a separate smoking zone and the lack of sufficient parking space in the CBD has seen club-owners fleeing from the scene for a more business conducive environment.
This, while restaurants and eateries in the Central Business District have been popping up at every corner over the past year.
Where there was once Club Tacos, later revamped into Club Gravity, there now stands Pronto Restaurant.
What was once Club Fahrenheit along Kimathi street, is now Java House alongside Kukito, another urban eatery. Clearly, the club was unable to bring on the heat.
The growth of urban eateries seems to have been fast-tracked by the growing middle class which would rather eat out than prepare a meal at home.
“Most of the investors in the industry are concentrating on opening restaurants compared to fast food joints, where their target market is the working-class people,” Ogea said.
The Jumia Food Index released in December shows Kenya’s growing middle class are leaning more towards junk food curtailed by the convenience of dialing for delivery.
This has, in turn, accelerated the growth of food delivery across the city, expected to rise 50 per cent this year.
The Index showed that chicken, pizza and burgers top the foods ordered by residents in middle-income estates in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Nakuru.
According to the report, Nairobi’s Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Ngong Road led in the number of delivery orders while residents of Nyali, City Mall and Mamba Village ordered the most in Mombasa.
In Nakuru, people residing in middle-income areas of CBD, Milimani, and Naka ordered.
Needless to say, the allure of eating out is reasonably high in Nairobi’s Central Business District. Upon stepping into Kilimanjaro Jamia located along Kimathi street, it is clear that the restaurant business is abuzz with activity.
Business has been booming so much so that the eatery, which sits right next to Java House, is packed to capacity, locking out a number of hungry customers. This saw the fast-rising hotel chain owned by Haji Yasin open a new branch along Banda Street to meet growing demand.
This has in turn seen increased competition for food revelers along the mosque area, with the recent opening of the Indo-Arab cuisine restaurant Beirut. Not to mention the already flourishing Al-Yusra.
Yasin has slowly been building the restaurant chain, with a third outlet in Eastleigh.
FOOD FOR LIKES
Yasin is not the only one capitalizing on Nairobi’s eating out culture with a number of other outlets cropping up in the CBD.
In the age of Instagram, restaurant owners have upped their anti to meet customers’ needs by creating eye-catching spaces coupled with tantalising dishes to increase footfall.
This is evident in the vibrant atmosphere achieved through careful curation of interior design and decor.
“There is renewed desire for Nairobians to experience different eating ambiance, service and food offered in the outlets,” Ogea said.
She added that operators were now fully embracing the e-marketing opportunity and targeting domestic tourists unlike previously where most outlets used to target international tourists.
More often than not, you will find customers taking pictures of the food they order with just as much focus on the surrounding. All in the name of getting a gram (Instagram) worthy photo.
“I have made it my mission to take myself out at least once a month so I can experience all these new spaces and different cuisines,” Carol Wangu, one of the diners I spoke to said.
Lifestyle and food blogger Francisca Wawira told the Star, there had been a significant shift in Kenya’s restaurant scene with more people, especially Millenials adopting eating out culture.
“Most people now want to savor experiences these new spaces offer along with the food,” she said.
While it may appear that the majority of eateries coming up in the CBD are Muslim-owned businesses, Ogea said challenges being experienced by hospitality operators cut across the industry despite nearness to the Mosque.
“Most clubs liquor license allows them to operate from 5 pm to 3am if you have noticed most clubs start filling up around 7/8 pm and at this time the Mosques are barely occupied,” she said.