A Rwandan Entrepreneur Aspires to Build a Global Fast Food Brand With Healthy Options
Malik Shaffy Lizinde has one mission on his mind: to build East Africa’s first global fast food chain with healthy, affordable menu options. Watch out McDonald’s, Chap Chap’s in town!
Lizinde was born and bred in Kigali and has a knack for learning skills on the job. He graduated from Mount Kenya University’s Kigali campus with a degree in business information technology in 2014. By the time he went to college, he had volunteered and worked in a wide variety of roles, including front office, business administration, IT support, media relations, and publishing — he even gave interior design a shot, which he loved to bits.
Deep down, Lizinde knew he would one day own a restaurant, but the capital and know-how required to start it held him back. One experience changed all of that. He worked at Shokola Lite café in Kigali, helping set it up. Amin Gafaranga, the proprietor of Shokola, showed Lizinde the ropes of the business. Lizinde assisted with the administration of the restaurant, and the experience proved to be a game changer.
A few years later, Lizinde had a chat with his best friend, Ben Tuyisenge; they put their Rwf 6 million (US$7,720) savings together, and four years later, on July 18, 2015, Chap Chap, a general East African term for “fast! fast!” started rolling out its famous chapati wraps. AkilahNet had a chat with Lizinde to find out how he did it and how business is faring thus far.
Why was 2015 the opportune time to open your business?
I thought it would take me a long time to make my dream a reality. I discussed it with my best friend, business partner, and co-founder, Ben Tuyisenge, and we opted to start small and grow big. We realized having a big restaurant did not mean one big space; we could have many small restaurant branches. We pooled all our savings together and got started. The earlier you start, the more you learn, and it’s easier to recover from mistakes now before we get too big.
There is a growing number of restaurants in Kigali. What differentiates Chap Chap from everyone else?
We offer healthy snacks, and that’s why we did not go for burgers and pizzas. We have various dishes on our menu, but our signature dish is lifaa (chapati wraps). We use an East African dish, chapati, as a base, and customers can add vegetables and our signature spices to create a healthy wrap of their choice.
What are some of the challenges you faced setting up?
The first challenge is always the start-up cost. Thank God my best friend Ben was there and agreed to partner with me. Secondly, getting people in Nyamirambo to eat healthy and educating people on wraps as a meal has been an uphill task. Another challenge was management; we both have full-time jobs, so balancing that out at the beginning was difficult. We have hired a manager now.
What are some of the mistakes you have made along the way that serve as huge lessons for you going forward?
My biggest mistake was pricing. I started with very low prices without proper analysis of the input costs of the ingredients. I reworked the prices. We also pumped all our cash directly into the business and didn’t leave sufficient working capital, which set us back for some time.
” We realized having a big restaurant did not mean one big space; we could have many small restaurant branches.”
Why did you choose Nyamirambo as the ideal location for Chap Chap?
Nyamirambo is a historic and lovely part of Kigali, often referred to as the Muslim quarter. Nyamirambo is vibrant and bustling, cosmopolitan with hard-to-beat views of the city. The lifestyle is totally different from other parts of Kigali. We wanted our customers to enjoy a complete experience of food and culture.
Who is your target clientele?
It is mostly the young, urban middle class as well as expats interested in exploring and learning more about different parts of Rwanda.
How many employees do you have?
I employ 10 people directly and work with two women suppliers, who provide most of our ingredients; we chose to work with them to also support their small businesses.
The hospitality business centers on customer satisfaction. How do you ensure that your employees deliver great products and service consistently?
This was a big challenge as a startup. I always do constant checks of the food to ensure it’s prepared to the highest standard. We hold biweekly meetings to check in with the staff to ensure that everything is fine. We also conduct periodic staff training to improve their skills. We also consult with staff to get their input on how best to improve the business.
What are your long-term goals for your business?
To make Chap Chap the next McDonald’s from Rwanda. I want to grow Chap Chap in Kigali, expand out of Kigali to East Africa, and inshallah (“God willing”), across the globe.
How do you market your business?
We use our network of friends on social media to spread the word. We also organize cultural events to draw people to Chap Chap, like food-tasting events and film screenings. Soon we will start hosting photo exhibitions and acoustic nights to draw in more clientele.
What is the most popular meal on your menu? Why is it so popular?
The chicken lifaa (chicken wrap) and lemanata juice, which is lemon and mint juice, are the fast movers. Thanks to our Chap Chap fusion of unique spices, our food has a distinct signature taste. It’s also very affordable. I think Chap Chap is the most affordable, healthy fast food restaurant in Kigali.
Do you have a business mentor? If so, who is it and why?
I do not have a business mentor in the proper sense of one. I have a good friend, David Toovey, who I consider my biggest advisor. I can’t make any big decision without consulting him. He has an eye for business and is constantly showing me the opportunities available for me.
What advice do you have for aspiring restaurateurs?
Know the industry. Make sure you understand every element of the food business before opening a restaurant.
Love the industry. if you can’t stand the thought of waiting tables or dealing with the public or working evenings and weekends, this is not the business for you.
Choose your location with your target clientele in mind. Is your restaurant more likely to attract walk-in traffic, or will it be a destination in itself?