It all revolves around her. In her seat, adjacent to a door that leads down to the kitchen, Margaret Nasaka supervises her employees, checking every meal that is collected from the kitchen and to serving tables for customers.
As the waitresses carry a large tray on which food and sauce is served, mostly in luwombo – an organic wrapped meal in steamed banana leaves, 72-year-old Nasaka places the cutlery, one way of keeping count of how many meals are served by each of the service personnel.
For 40 years, St Anthony’s has thus survived, for keeping its meals organic and authentic. The name has something Nasaka holds quite dearly. She is a Catholic so she chose ‘St Anthony’ as her restaurant name.
The saint, of Padua, is a patron for lost and stolen articles. He is famed, powerful Franciscan preacher and teacher. The Lord is part of her journey.
Different spots of the serving area have photographs of St Anthony, Jesus and his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
She wears a rosary around her neck. And as she puts her trust in the Lord to lead her every second of the day, she is keen to take initiative.
In her records’ book, the grey-haired caterer draws columns under which she records meals taken out of the kitchen under names of each waitresses.
Among the ladies, is an elderly man, perhaps in his late 60s. Abbas Kizito started working with Nakasa in 1983 when the Uganda Hotels franchise closed.
At the time, she was one of the well-known cooks in town.
Her fame rested, and still rests on the values of integrity, high standards and work ethics.
She was proprietor of Tourist Motel, along Kampala Road which catered for Bank of Uganda and Greenland Bank thanks to her connections with fallen banker, Suleiman Kiggundu.
In the course of the interview, she calls on Kizito to collaborate dates and places.
Whereas Nasaka has embraced the effects of aging gracefully, Kizito’s hair is with an unnatural dark, of black tint of hair dye.
To matters of business. She keeps a purple florescent tube which she often lights to check for genuineness of money the waiter and waitresses collect from customers as payment for the meals.
She learnt the hard way. Some employees had learnt their way around cheating her which ate into the profit margin. She lost a lot of money when she was away on religious pilgrims in Rome. When she realised she incurred losses, she stepped in to handle all the cash transactions. At the midmorning hour when we meet, she is between fetes of fighting off sleep with bites on sugarcane cubes.
Work at the restaurant starts at 3am when the meats are roasted. Before work starts, prayer is said. Nasaka is present to supervise goat and beef being prepared into luwombo and so for chicken, groundnut sauce and mushroom.
The eatery specialises in traditional meals so there is a lot of peeling to do, of matooke, sweet potatoes, cassava, plantain and more. Rice is sorted and fish unscaled. Pumpkin is cut.
As she supervises her workers to achieve quality portions, she pays a little more time to put luwombo meals together.
“Luwombo is my signature dish and I make sure that I serve it to my best abilities. It is the most organic luwombo you can enjoy in this country. I am self-taught and I thank God for the experience over the years. People enjoy meals here, even those on holiday from oversees,” she brags between giving instructions and sharing jokes with the waitresses.
As we chat, a newlywed couple drives in to have lunch. Minutes later, a group of Japanese drive in and place an order for 15 people.
Nasaka smiles as if to confirm her statement about her place being a favourite hangout for those looking for authentic traditional meals.
“If you are to last as long as I have in the food and catering business, make sure that you are consistent. My customers will attest to you that the passion juice that they enjoy one day is the same they will enjoy on another, and so is te case for chapatti luwombo and meals in general. You have to invest time. I do the shopping for the foods myself from different markets,” she explains.
Serving a customer with a smile is an addition but paying attention when taking an order, more important. Her challenge at the moment is outgrowing renting space. To that she decried the high rent fees she is paying to one of the property moguls in town. She pays Shs14m per month to Crane Management Services (CMS).
Her dream is to find a cheaper place which can enable her save enough to sustain her food business.
For now, she says that getting involved in the daily operations of her business has given it the four-decade lifeline and the reason it will continue going strong. All work and no play would make the 72-year-old lazy and perhaps grumpy.
In keeping an eye on the operations, she shares jokes with her employees, teasing the young women about dating fellow youngsters.
They smile to it and go on with the day’s work. When she celebrated her 72nd birthday on December 3, she asked God for a healthier life and continuity in food business. Her hard work, commitment, zeal and optimism is admirable.