Baobab Fare chef wins 'Chopped,' tells his story of coming to Detroit as an immigrant

Posted at 6:23 PM, Mar 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-01 19:22:22-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — It's not just the mouth-watering chicken that keeps people coming back to Baobab Fare in Detroit, it's the two owners' story.

Husband and wife Hamissi Mamba and Nadia Nijimbere are both refugees from Burundi, a country in East Africa.

Mamba told 7 Action News that Nijimbere came to Detroit first in 2013; "Then, after a couple months, she found out she was pregnant with twins and I couldn’t join them until 2015. I tried to apply for a visa two times and got denied."

Alone in a foreign country, Nijimbere lived at Freedom House in Detroit, an asylum for refugees.

When Mamba was finally able to join in November of 2015 he said; "That’s how I came and met the girls for the first time, and I was a dad for the first time, me and Nadia, we were family for the first time."

Everything in Detroit was a first: the language, the cold, the food.

So the two East Africans tell us they decided to show Detroit a bit of their home, in the form of food.

"We started on the street, doing a lot of pop-ups, doing a lot of festivals," explained Mamba. "We put up tents and started selling food. That’s how we started."

Nijimbere said, "Here in the U.S. if you work hard, you have a dream, you plan. You are not discouraged, this can happen."

For these two it did happen.

From absolutely nothing, Nijimbere and Mamba have built the beloved Baobab Fare.

They're both James Beard semi-finalists this year and Mamba just won an episode of The Food Network's "Chopped."

"Yeah we won it," said Mamba. "But honestly the goal was not winning, the goal was to tell these stories. The goal was to tell what is Freedom House."

Mamba and Nijimbere are donating the show winnings to Freedom House to help build a new shelter kitchen, they're hoping other Detroiters donate too.

You can donate here.

A Baobab is an African tree nicknamed the "tree of life."

It can grow with no water to help it, much like these two entrepreneurs say they grew their restaurant with nothing to help them.

Mamba said their food was "Our way to be integrated, it was our way to be accepted, it was our way to belong here."