Interview: Debby and Maxine from Food & Stuff

Maxine & Debby

We want to interview locals and expats who are doing interesting things in Kigali… and this is the first one. I’m a bit dubious of my interviewing skills but we’ve all got to start somewhere!

Debby and Maxine run Food & Stuff, a food delivery, catering and consulting business here in Kigali. I love their food and love anyone who has the guts to set up a business in a foreign land. Here’s a bit about them and their business…

Tell us a bit about yourselves…

Debby – I was born in Zimbabwe and trained to be a chef in South Africa. Moved to the UK and stayed for 8 years. Started as a commi chef and worked up the ladder to Head Chef.  I have now been in Rwanda for 2 years and have loved every minute!

Maxine – I was born and raised in the UK, trained in hospitality management in my home town of Brighton, specialising in food and beverage. I have worked for independent, corporate and boutique properties all at the high end of the market starting as a waitress through to General Manager, until I had a mid life crisis and went traveling around Africa!

How did you guys end up in Kigali?

Debby – I was head hunted to come to Kigali to help open a new hotel as Head Chef, an adventure I could not turn down.

Maxine – Rwanda was one of the first countries I visited on my trip through Africa and I fell in love straight away! As fate would have it I ended coming back and helped to open a hotel in Kigali.

How do you know each other and what makes you a good team to open a business together?

Debby – We have a long history! Worked together in the UK and then joined back up in Kigali! We are a great team as we both have completely different skill sets that compliment each other, we both expect high standards and we enjoy each others company (which is always helpful when you spend a lot of time with each other.)

What sort of work were you doing before you decided to start Food & Stuff?

Debby – I was working as a Head Chef in Kigali.

Maxine – I was in the UK working as a consultant, one of my contracts was for an international spa company (totally out of my comfort zone!)

What is it about the city that made you decide to stay and open a business?

Maxine – We love Kigali it is a great city to live in and there was certainly a gap in the market for our kind of food and hospitality consultancy using our many years of experience in both the UK and Africa.

How easy is it to go from an idea to a legal business? Can you describe the process in brief?

Maxine – RDB will tell you it is all very easy and registering a company will take only 24 hours! This was not our experience, maybe if you are a huge investor but we had many hours waiting around. The most annoying part was that nobody can tell you exactly what you need to do, what information you need and if there are any other taxes etc..that need to arranged outside of RDB for example panton. The cost is minimal, no more than RWF 20,000.00 and most of that is to get your paper work notarised!

What sorts of challenges have you faced since you stared Food & Stuff?

Debby – Biggest challenge apart from the paper work side has been the availability of quality ingredients and the purchasing of basic equipment… it is so expensive!

If you have experience running a business elsewhere, how does running a business in Kigali compare?

Maxine – Totally different in some ways, you have to be very patient, you need to plan ahead more to ensure you are prepared for any eventuality and the internet connections are very poor which can make life difficult, but in other ways the tax laws are very similar to the UK as are the employment laws.

How’s business? Are things going as planned?

Debby – Business is good, however we would love to consult on more businesses. We are already working for Volcanos Safaris and we would like to look into a contract or two, school lunches, airline food etc…

What do you see in the future for Food & Stuff. What are your ambitions for the business?

Maxine – Our aim is to be the number one for food and service in Kigali offering outside catering, lunches, contract catering and professional consultancy for the hospitality industry.

Do you see Kigali as a city welcoming to new business ideas for expats?

Debby – Yes certainly there are plenty of opportunities for the right type of businesses. Those that wish to become part of Kigali, support the local work force and that have the country’s best interests at heart.

What would your advice be to someone thinking of starting up a business in Kigali?

Maxine – Learn to be patient, work hard, understand the Rwandan market and find out all the rules and regulations before investing any money.

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.