Yellowknife has a new restaurant – Safari Foods Family, which features Indo-African cuisine ranging from familiar favourites like butter chicken and samosas to palak paneer and chapati with beans.
The restaurant and lounge opened in downtown Yellowknife in early July in the former Savannah’s Family Restaurant space, and will be open every day from 11am until 11pm.
“The name Safari means ‘journey’ in Swahili. I want to make people travel, even if they’re sitting here, when they eat the food,” said Sureya Luyombo, founder and owner of Safari Foods Family.
Luyombo said her new venture started out as a joke between her and the previous owner, with whom she’d been friends for years.
“I was like, ‘Can I take it?’ Just joking. And she’s like, ‘Yeah, you can take it.’ We were just pranking each other,” Luyombo said.
“She called me and she told me, ‘Are you serious about this? Because there are other people who want to take it. If you’re serious, I’ll sell it to you.’ I was like, I was joking! And then I told my husband about it, and my husband told me, ‘No, let’s go check it out.’”
Having previously worked in security, Luyombo said she was looking for a change. While she had never planned to open a restaurant, Luyombo said had been hoping to branch into entrepreneurship for years.
“Some workplaces, they don’t respect you at all. They don’t respect your values. They don’t pay enough. If you’re one minute late, they don’t ask why you’re late. One minute? You’re late,” Luyombo said.
“I made a promise to myself: at the age of 30, I have to own my business. Now I have three kids, and I just want to spend time with my kids.”
Luyombo had previously worked in catering, and had even helped out at Savannah’s from time to time. It wasn’t until months into her work on her new restaurant, though, that it all started to feel real.
“I was like, ‘Am I dreaming?’ My husband told me, ‘Stop pinching yourself, you’re not dreaming.’ It did not sink in,” she said.
This restaurant has been a real labour of love for Luyombo, who has familial ties to Uganda, India, and other parts of the world.
“I wanted to bring all my heritage together. I was missing food from home,” Luyombo said with a laugh.
“Burger, fries, burger, fries. People get tired of it. I needed to bring something different in town, not because I want to compete…I’m doing this because I love it. I love cooking, and I just want to bring cultures together.”
Luyombo said that the opportunity to run her own business has been fulfilling.
“Even if I get something small, even if I get $200 a month, it’s my own business. I’ve put everything that I know into it.”
While the journey here hasn’t always been easy, Luyombo said she is looking forward to introducing Yellowknife to a new cuisine and cultural experience.
“I just hope that people will give me a chance,” she said.