URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — It is a new beginning for husband and wife duo Memoire Budimbu and Lisette Mbaki. Although they are not new to the small business world, they are now the proud owners of a new restaurant.
They moved to Illinois from the Congo with the dream of owning a business, but it took some legwork first to get there.
“I tried to find a job, but before you find a job you have to know English,” says Memoire. “I went to [the] Adult Education [Center] in Urbana. My teacher, Katie, pushed me.”
That is where Memoire also learned resume and interview skills. After several different jobs, he and Lisette opened Best of Africa’s Food Store in downtown Urbana.
They say one of the first problems they encountered was actually a good problem to have. The first few days were so busy in the store that it was hard to keep shelves fully stocked.
That is when they knew a restaurant would be just as, or even more, successful.
“When we came here, we saw Chinese restaurants, Indian restaurants, Italian, [and] French.”
All that was missing? A restaurant featuring African cuisine. They wanted to test it out first.
“My wife [is] a good cooker. She used to cook for the Congolese community,” says Memoire.
It is a big community in Champaign-Urbana. Anything from birthdays, to anniversaries, to weddings, Lisette catered it. She got the gift from her mother.
“She was just cooking in the streets [in Africa]. You put your table on the street and people come by. It looks like [food is] in my blood,” says Lisette.
This week, dozens of people showed up for the grand opening of Mama’s African Kitchen, including Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin.
“One of our top goals is to encourage business to locate here and, just as importantly, to succeed,” says Marlin. “[This restaurant] really reflects the diversity of the community.”
The restaurant menu focuses on Congolese food, but also includes other African cuisine from Nigeria, Liberia, and Ghana.
Memoire and Lisette say they’re excited to bring new flavors to people who have yet to experience this kind of food.
Even though a second business means more work, they believe they have the formula for continued success.
“We have good teamwork here. We hire good people who do a good job,” says Memoire.