The Covid-19 pandemic killed many small businesses but also gave rise to others by those innovative and brave enough. Maurice Shyaka, 26, is one of the latter, who chose entrepreneurship in the middle of one of the world’s toughest economic times.
And his idea was nothing extraordinary. He opted to open a bar, Qwezi Bar and Bistro in Remera, at the end of 2020. “I was thinking of a food kiosk, a small coffee shop but definitely a space to do with food and drinks,” he explains.
The name Qwezi is derived from Ukwezi, Kinyarwanda for “moon.’’
Most bars had closed shop with the lockdown, and others were still closing as the pandemic progressed, but he still saw an opportunity.
Opening up officially in January 2021, when Covid regulations were strictly in place, means he and other bar owners sometimes ran afoul of the police enforcers.
In his third month of operation, and when business was beginning to pick, he was fined Rwf150,000 ($150) for not adhering to social distancing rules. The fine followed a one-month closure as part of the punishment.
“It is harder controlling people socialising, and we had to adhere to the law,” Shyaka said.
With on-and-off lockdowns, Shyaka, a 2019 Finance graduate of the University of Rwanda, and a digital marketer had to innovate. “We pushed our service though social media which worked out fine,” he explains. And added online orders and home delivery. “Online services and delivery are still a big part of our business model," he says.
He invested about Rwf7,000,000 ($6,863) initially, then later pumped in Rwf4,000,000 ($3,921) saying the biggest challenge was paying staff even with low sales during lockdowns.
Now he has to think about scaling the business.
Currently Qwezi has a new look. A giant mural, Bruce Canda’s semi-abstract image of traditional African women dancing in an open space invites one outside. The interior isn’t a typical bar look. One wall features a giant mural created by Moses Izabiriza. A semi-abstract painting of the moon, with light and dark juxtaposed for moody effect.
An other walls are canvas paintings of Rwandan traditional royalty King Rwabusisi and Princess Emma Bakayishonga, the daughter of King Musinga.
According to Shyaka, the space is evolving into a corporate networking spot and its setting and ambience is inspired by the Rwandan custom of evening socialising under the moonlight, for dance and feasting.
For those seeking mental challenge, some tables are boards or the Igisoro, an ancient Rwandan board game, which is enjoyed by both youth and the elderly.
Besides operating a full bar, Qwezi serves mainstream and traditional Rwandan food.
For Shyaka, Qwezi is more than a bar. “We envision it as a contemporary spot beyond just food and drinks, but for belonging, socialising through both artistic events and discussions.”