Nadia Nijimbere spoke to the club as the founder, owner, and chef of Baobab Restaurant in Detroit.
Ms. Nijimbere told us of her journey from an East African Rights Activist to a Detroit East African Cuisine restaurant owner. In 2013, she fled her country to avoid persecution and, through a connection, learned about the Freedom House, a temporary home for indigent survivors of persecution who are seeking asylum. Freedom House put her up in a facility near the Ambassador Bridge for two years and provided aid in her assimilation to the US. She was taught to speak English, given legal counsel, and given access to medical exams. During one of these exams, she learned that she was pregnant with twins.
Repeatedly in her presentation she expressed her gratitude to the Freedom House for the care and opportunity that they provided. Two years later, her husband, Hamissi Mamba, was able to join them. The first few years here were a struggle as Mr. Mamba was unable to look for work until his paperwork went through the system, which left Ms. Nijimbere’s caregiver job as the only source of income. In 2017 they were finally granted asylum.
As entrepreneurs, and, with their love of cooking, it seemed right that they open a restaurant and introduce East African foods to Detroit. Their idea allowed them to win $110,000 in two grant money competitions. Although they were lucky to acquire 6568 Woodward Avenue, Suite 100 in 2018, they did not open until 2021 and struggled during those years until they were able to obtain a loan.
Baobab means tree of life, and, in South Africa, a Baobab tree grows in areas without water. The staff is hired from Freedom House.