Before the Covid-19 pandemic kicked in, Zauja’s restaurant which is popularly known as Lusaniya (Luganda word for platter), was a popular joint, frequented by city patrons who enjoyed its rich offerings of local and coastal culinary treats.
You either walked into the restaurant premises in Mengo or placed an order through a phone call to have your meal delivered. Their catch was delivery of food on a platter.
Today, like most eateries and hangouts, it is mostly empty, at times under key and lock. Management has had to lay off 26 of its workers.
There are nine staff members who have to make a sacrifice of staying within the premises for the night or share accommodation close by.
Zauja’s director, Derrick Lwagula says that in the wake of the outbreak of covid-19, they were in shock.
“First of all, we had to close down for some few days as we weighed options on how to move on with business. Within the time of closure, we reached out to our regular customers through our social media platforms informing them that we would be mainly operating online,” he recounts.
The clients were asked to send in their order earlier in the day so that appropriate food portions would be budgeted for, prepared and later on delivered on time.
That would also enable the restaurant delivery team beat the curfew time for the evening food deliveries.
Initially, the restaurant utilised its motorcycles to deliver the food but has had to widen its scope by inviting in boda boda (commercial motorcycles) to reach out more.
It is not business as usual. “It is tough,” Zauja’s director sadly says, adding that more than ever, they are constantly thinking of ways to make an extra buck to save their business from collapsing.
The business has suffered a big blow which is evident in the reduction in the daily revenue. The number of customers kept reducing following movement restriction by government.
For now, and probably the close future, the business will be relying on deliveries.
The business has had to strengthen on their presence and interaction as well as daily calls to clients to find out if they might be interested in consuming food.
With cautions on expenditure though, the responses Lwagula has got of apologies as people prefer to do home cooking and save money.
Nonetheless, a few who prefer a delivery over having to cook, continue to provide an opportunity for the restaurant to soldier on and sustain its continuity.
Today, he serves a meagre 10 per cent of the fraction he previously catered for. Also, the supply of local produce was affected and for some days, he will have to move from more than one market in search of food items.
Some of the rare items he has to look for include typical local chicken which is an essential on Zauja’s menu.
Fish has also become scarce, and thus expensive.
“It is sourced mostly from villages. With the ban on movement of transport means like buses which were among the biggest carriers of this product, there was scarcity initially. Today, the price of such items has increased,” Lwagula explains.
His suppliers were the daily agricultural products’ brokers in local markets such as St. Balikuddembe (Owino), who handle freshly brought in products early every morning.
Those buy produce from farmers, bulk and transport to different trading centres, targeting people such as Lwagula who routinely stock produce. Today, such brokers determine prices of foodstuffs well aware of the need and urgency for them.
“The corona virus pandemic has had a bush fire -like effect on most businesses and the economy at large. Our land lords seem not to listen to our setbacks. Our revenue has gone down by more than three quarters,” Zauja’s director further reveals.
This period has had some tough lessons to learn.
“To have a strong chain and options of suppliers. I have also learnt to always
have enough stock of food supplies especially the types that are not perishable. It is wise to have a number of workers that at least stay a few metres around their work premises,” he says.
Lwagula has also learnt that it is important to grow online presence. It is the basis of continuity for the business.
“We have resolved to stock dry cereals such as rice, cowpeas and beans. We buy the fresh produce from markets every morning. As per the directive of the president, we picked a few willing workers to camp on the job. Others stay close by and with those, we incur extra costs in form of bonuses on top of the wages,” Lwagula further explains.
For now, the plan is to keep the door to door delivery model, intensify online advertisements and outsource genuine boda bodas to add to Zauja’s current delivery means of transport options.
He is pondering reaching out to Safe Boda to make some deliveries in case business picks up again.
“However it’s our prayer that the good Lord intercepts this pandemic and everything goes back to normal,” he concludes.