Mariam’s Kitchen | From Humble Beginnings
We visited booming Cape Town food business Mariam’s Kitchen in the Foreshore to eat salomies and chat with Shah, son of Mariam, whose unique business philosophy is one of love, faith and service.
How old were you when Mariam’s Kitchen started?
I was quite young – school days. Mariam’s must be plus-minus 30 years old. I remember I’d come in from school, drop my school bag in the shop.
So you spent your afternoons in the shop?
The shop was everything, and me being the eldest, I used to be in the shop most of the time. I worked in the shop from about 18. Mariam’s is a family business, it’s a passion, it’s not just a business for us. It’s my mom’s name associated with the business so we have to keep up the name.
Why did she start the business?
You have to start some kind of work or business and my mom loves food.
She must be an amazing cook.
Ya, you know some people just cook for the sake of cooking, they don’t cook with love. You must always cook with love. And she does that.
What are your early memories of the business?
It was a humble beginning, very humble beginning. The first shop was in Salt River. A small shop, but also busy. In Salt River chicken was the main thing.
I will never forget the day I bought the first stainless steel table for the shop. It was R275 and I was over the moon. Yoh my kitchen! I’ve got this stainless steel table. And, hamdullah, from that time to this time Mariam’s has grown so that now even the scoop is stainless steel! But I’ll never forget that first stainless steel table I bought.
Were you always going to work in the business full time?
Ya, I enjoy the food business, I enjoy mixing with people. I like people, I like food. And people come from far to see us. From Rylands, Paarl. Joburg! A lot of people from Joburg come for our salomies. When they’re in Cape Town, we pre-pack them for them specially and then they take them to Joburg.
Would you ever expand to other cities?
Inshallah, we are planning. We’re working on a very different concept for Mariam’s, the recipes stay the same but the cooking method differs.
So where do the recipes come from?
My mom, everything comes from my mom. Everything.
What did you learn about business from your mom?
Ah, my mom used to stress us, man, she wants everything fresh, fresh, fresh. Must be fresh, must be made with love. And it must be done perfectly. If the customer wants one thing that we’re not even selling, my mom would say make it for that customer. And I’d say no mom we can’t make this it’s very time consuming. But when my mom was working she’d make sure every customer got what they wanted, whether we do it or don’t do it. She believed in the blessing of that customer. She just wants the customer to be happy.
Who else in your family is part of the business?
Basically everyone. My brothers are involved in the business, my mom and dad have retired but they still have the final say. They have full say in everything.
To work with family is up and down, but it’s still family. The main fact is that the family is together, that’s what’s important.
Have you learned any tips for working with family?
I’d say give everyone importance in the business. Everyone must have responsibility.
Do you have business tips that you’ve learned along the way?
I always believe in faith. Everything happens with the mercy of god. Everything. But you must work. Don’t think you can just sit back and god is just going to give you the money. You must work, be nice to people and serve quality, quality, quality food. Don’t compromise on quality. Never. Be honest and try to give good service. We are not perfect but we try to be as perfect as possible.
Do you see other places as competition?
You must never see anyone as competition. You work around it. Even when Burger King opened (across the way), Burger King boosted my business.
Seriously! When Burger King opened the queue was so big that people started coming here, people from Stellenbosch, from Strand, there’s no need for them to come this side. And now they’re my regular customers. So when Burger King opened it was a blessing in disguise.
What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?
People are happy and satisfied, and that is a blessing. It’s the gift god has given me, to feed the people. And to see my mom’s name grow is very important. I will make every effort for, inshallah, Mariam’s to grow because it holds my mom’s name.
What does she say to you when she comes into the shops?
“This is not right, the onions are not cut equal size. The tomatoes are some big, some small.” We get stressed when my mom comes in!
Is there anything you would never serve?
Haha, easy one!