Community Spotlight – Mabina Zinga, founder of Brazza Restaurant
Mabina Zinga is the founder of Brazza, a restaurant that is imminently due to move from Pop Brixton in South London. After several successful supper clubs and pop ups, Mabina’s restaurant mixes Congolese, West African and European influences to create a unique take on African food. She recently celebrated the restaurant’s one year anniversary, and is excited to see where it takes her.
Tell me a bit about yourself…
Brazza is a Congolese Afro-fusion restaurant. Originally, I started a supper club with my sister who was a chef at the time. We always enjoyed cooking together so we had this idea to start a supper club that used ingredients that were traditionally West African, but combined with more European/modern techniques. it started with one event, and then Covid happened! We were thinking about what to do, I was testing out a lot of recipes and doing a lot of cooking. As things slowly started to reopen we managed to do a couple of pop-ups and things along the way. Then we decided to rent a commercial kitchen and get on Deliveroo.
As things started to come to an end with restrictions, we wanted a customer facing location. We wanted to create an experience for our customers. Delivery feels a bit clinical because you just have to get things out. That kind of passion and love was missing for us. So I just thought I’m going to start applying for things, looking at funding and small restaurants. I applied for Pop Brixton and they had a restaurant space free, and I got it! I thought, if I get this, I’m going to quit my job -I was actually a teacher before. Then I think that actually freaked my sister out a bit. She just had a baby and it was just too much for her. So I just carried on, and here I am. Still in Pop Brixton and we just celebrated our one year anniversary last month!
Do you have a proudest moment that you can identify in the last year?
We did a really fun catering job for an online publication who celebrate and tell stories based on women from the diaspora. The one we did most recently was such good fun, and being in a room with all black women owned-businesses being the focal point, that was amazing. Also our one-year anniversary was amazing. It felt like a real achievement to have gotten it to a year. Lots of my friends came and it was just that warmth, everything went smoothly and there were no major hiccups. Just seeing everyone having a good time and enjoying something that you’ve created. That was probably a highlight for me.
Is the supper club still going?
No, the supper club is not still going on. Having a restaurant just takes all your energy. But I think maybe I will bring it back one day. It’s nice having the creativity of a supper club, being able to change your recipes and really focus on the food. You realise when you try to do that on a bigger commercial scale it’s quite difficult and you realise that this is something that has to be churned out day in day out. You’re not really thinking about the practicality of it. It’s a learning curve, but I think I would bring it back one day.
What are some challenges you’ve faced since starting Brazza?
Where do I start? Some of the most challenging things are not always having the money to do the things you wanna do, like advertising, marketing, or even paying your staff. You can’t always get the staff that you wanted to get because you can’t afford staff with a certain level of experience. Maybe a piece of machinery breaks down and you really want to replace it and get something brand new, but you can’t so you just have to get it replaced and it breaks again a few months later. All these things can be quite testing. I think that’s probably the most difficult thing.
Obviously staffing is really difficult in hospitality at the moment. I’ve been quite lucky, it’s only really in the last two months that I’ve struggled with staffing. Before that we always seemed to make it through. I guess just the same challenges that everyone faces, but obviously when it’s your first time doing it, it’s harder. Oh, and getting through a Covid winter! I almost forgot about that. That was really really tough. There were points where I was like, I’m not sure if we’re going to make it. Getting through that was quite an achievement.
Do you still feel the effect of Covid?
100%! The lack of staff for one, that’s definitely not something that people had to consider before. The mixture of Covid and Brexit just means that there are so many less people in hospitality that are available. That’s still a huge issue that people don’t really consider. Particularly customers don’t really have an understanding of that and how challenging it is. People know that they could just leave, they could walk out today and get a job tomorrow. They can kinda do what they want and ask for what they want and be a bit cheeky, which puts real strain on a small business. So yeah, I don’t think that we’ve fully recovered from it yet. And also coming straight from Covid into a cost of living crisis you just think, gosh! Can we just have a few years? A little break?
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I would like to think that in ten years time I will either have several locations of the business, or maybe another business. One thing that you learn as an entrepreneur is that although this is your baby and it’s your whole life, and in this moment it is my whole life, you also realise that a lot of successful entrepreneurs have actually had a few businesses before they’ve hit the one that ends up being successful. They’ve tried a few ideas and so, when you understand that and you think ‘ok this is just my first try at this’ it kind of opens you up to thinking that ‘I don’t know where I’ll be’. There’s places I’d like to be, and I definitely think I’ll still be in hospitality in ten years. Hospitality and events are really what I’m passionate about. Particularly events and anything that involved curating an experience for people. Whether that be in a restaurant or something else, I know that I’ll still be doing that. I just hope I’ll be making a lot more money!
The future of hospitality is…
African! I think that African culture is really having a moment and I think it will continue to do so for probably the next ten years. The number of African people in this country is so much bigger than it was ten years ago. There’s actually more Africans in London than Caribbeans. West African music is becoming increasingly popular and I’m sure that is going to spread out to other parts of Africa as well. We’ve already seen South Africa have come really strong and I’m sure East Africa will follow as well. That whole scene is going to have a huge impact on hospitality, because where music goes, usually that kind of leads the way. It starts off as concerts and festivals and then it trickles down into other aspects of hospitality. I think that’s where we’re going at the moment, which is good for me!
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