East African restaurant and market, Baobab Fare, received the grand prize of $50,000 during the final round of the 2017 Hatch Detroit on Friday. Husband and wife team Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere are aiming to open their business in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood.
In addition to the startup funding, the winning business also receives $200,000 in business support services. Mamba took center stage during the evening’s final pitch competition, audibly winning over the crowd and panel of judges not only with a strong business plan that including providing employment to refugees residing in Detroit but also with adorable photos of the couple’s twins.
Nijimbere and Mamba are both refugees from Burundi who came to Detroit to escape ethnic persecution in their country. Nijimbere fled in 2013 and, as Mamba explained during his presentation, later discovered she was pregnant while residing at Freedom House, a temporary home for asylum seekers located in Southwest Detroit. Mamba joined her in 2015.
While in Detroit, Nijimbere worked as a caregiver while Mamba worked in a factory, but together the pair hatched a plan to open a business. “Why not try a restaurant so we can share our culture?” Mamba explained during his three-minute pitch.
During their acceptance speech later that night, Mamba thanked his wife and the organization that helped them settle into Detroit. “This one is for Freedom House,” he said.
Nijimbere also acknowledged the incredible achievement: “Three months ago we got granted asylum. Now we are winning Hatch Detroit. It’s a good example for anyone who is a refugee or an immigrant to see anything can happen.”
While they did not ultimately receive the grand prize, fellow finalists Bar Botanica, Lip Bar, and Detroit Blows gave a strong showing at the final presentation. The judges deliberated for well over an hour before revealing their decision. In general finalists have also found success following Hatch. For example, one of the judges at the event, Dameon Gabriel of forthcoming restaurant-music venue Gabriel Hall was a finalist in the 2014 Hatch contest.
Stay tuned for updates on the progress at Baobab Fare, Bar Botanica, and the other food businesses featured in this year’s contest as they move closer to opening.