Running a kitchen adds spice to Leyuhna’s life

Leyuhna Fayker, who is based at the St George's Mall branch of Mariam's Kitchen.

Mariam’s Kitchen, a bust-ling eatery in the CBD is well-known for its gatsbys, salomies, steak sandwiches and Malay-style dishes which have become popular among locals and foreigners alike.

Leyuhna Fayker, who is based at the St George’s Mall branch of the popular eatery, said when she got married 25 years ago, she could not cook a single dish… but among her wedding gifts had been a Cape Malay recipe book.

Since then, she said, she started enjoying cooking and eventually started her own business 17 years ago.

She took over Mariam’s Kit-chen in St George’s Mall five years ago, and is enjoying the atmosphere and meeting people from different walks of life.

“We have a variety of people coming here, a lot of everyone,” she told CapeTowner. “We get tourists, locals, business people, regulars, holiday-makers and students. We do office parties and catering for the hotels who don’t offer halaal to their guests.”

Mariam’s Kitchen, which was started by Mariam Mia in Salt River about 25 years ago, moved to the Cape Town CBD about 17 years ago, where they have established themselves as a sit-down eatery and take-away with prayer facilities. “It used to be a tiny shop. Then we took over the spaces next door and amalgamated the shops to create this space,” said Ms Fayker.

When she took over the business, she said, she learnt Ms Mia’s recipes and continued to make the dishes everyone had grown fond of over the years.

Ms Fayker said her job at the eatery is focused on the food. She has to make sure that the correct amount of spice is put into dishes, that the ingredients are fresh and that everything is delivered on time. “Everything is made in the morning for the day, so there is a lot of preparation and work that goes into making the food because we have such a vast menu,” she said.

Ms Fayker said it can be a challenge to become a successful business woman. “I also used to scrub floors and clean pots and wash dishes. You have to start somewhere and build yourself up.”

She believes that one’s success as an entrepreneur should not be influenced by one’s gender.

“I don’t believe women have shortfalls when compared to men. I can take on any challenge that I am faced with.

“I think that nowadays, most women are in business.”

But one of the things she has observed over the years in the industry is that women have less time to cook at home.

“I don’t think women cook anymore. It’s just a grab and go because they are so busy.

“You don’t find women who stay home and cook because they are career-orientated.

“There are lots of working moms whom we cater for because they just don’t have the time.”

Mariam’s Kitchen St George’s Mall has many new feet walking through the eatery daily, but they also have many regulars, and are fondly remembered by tourists who come back every year to have their food.

“I have a customer from Dubai.

“He eats here when he comes to Cape Town about three times a year. He said his wife can cook the same dish every day and it will taste different every time. But when he comes to Mariam’s, the curry is always the same. And he enjoys it, because it’s always the same quality.”

She said an experience that never gets old tourists’ confusion about what a gatsby is.

“We had a family from Switzerland once, and they came here and said that someone told them they had to try a gatsby from Miriam’s. They ordered a full gatsby for the dad and another for the mom and her daughter, and obviously the staff told them that it was quite big, but they still ordered full gatsbys. When they saw it come from the kitchen, they were so shocked to see the size of it. And that was quite funny, to see the looks on their faces. They took lots of pictures though,” said Ms Fayker.

“When people come here for holidays, we always see the same faces, and lots of new ones as well. It makes you feel good that people come back all the time. They know what they are going to get. They know what to expect, and that’s important.”