By Michael Kisekka
It is barely six months old. It contains a food buffet. For about $3 a person, there are local and spicy selections. It’s called Pearl Classic Food Court on the Uganda Christian University (UCU) main campus.
Roughly double the price of what other nearby restaurants charge in a time with fewer students on campus, this UCU-Mukono canteen is swimming against the tide but keeping its head above the water. How? The quality of food and service and fine-dining atmosphere give the eatery an edge.
“I had come to campus to pay tuition, but I felt hungry and branched at this fancy-looking restaurant,” Juliet Nyakato, a third-year student pursing Bachelor of Laws at UCU, said. “I have been impressed by the good food and the high-quality customer care.”
Understanding how a restaurant might work on the UCU campus is a plus as the court is operated by employees who were laid off and hired back as independent contractors. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck and education institutions were closed, the UCU administration outsourced catering services from a service provider.
The move meant that the members of the UCU catering department were rendered redundant. Upon learning that he had no job, the head of the UCU catering department, Richard Ekadu, opened a restaurant at the premises of the former Guild Canteen, which had closed due to the effects of the Covid-19.
Ekadu recalled to duty many of his faithful servants after the layoff. This time, they would be staff at his new restaurant, which he oversees as the director. The restaurant now employs about 20 people as cleaners, waiters, chefs and delivery persons.
With neatly kept wooden walls painted in purple, white and green, a conspicuous banner on the roof edge, a huge water dispenser at the entrance for clients to sanitize, the restaurant officially opened its doors for the first customer on July 20, 2021.
Bridget Lugunda, a waitress at the restaurant, is proud of her new workplace and the opportunity to have a job.
“I am happy to be serving here, especially after I lost my job,” she says, adding, “I urge students and other people to come and try out our food.”
Habib Felix, who works as the delivery man, says he delivers food to people even outside the university.
In such a business, professionalism is key, if one is to maintain their clientele and that is what Pius Mutebi, one of the chefs, says is their goal.
David Ebonyu, the manager of the
restaurant, says through the facility, they hope to market the university to the people who eat their meals. He also says they take advantage of the time when they provide services at parties to market the university.
The restaurant intends to train UCU students interested in culinary arts. “Through internship programs, we are aiming at training students as well as providing employment opportunities, eventually,” Ebonyu says.
While much is positive at the food court, there are challenges. The manager says the prices of food in the markets are high and there have been fewer people at the university because in-person classes were suspended June through October 2021, when the second wave of the Covid-19 hit Uganda. Success is expected to increase now as the Ugandan government has allowed universities to open for in-person lectures, starting in November.