Highlighting Foodee’s Diverse Restaurant Partners
As a catering platform, Foodee has the privilege to partner with top local restaurants, each very unique in their own way. Our team and clients have been able to enjoy them through office lunch delivery, but we recognize that there is much more to a restaurant than just how their food tastes. By understanding their story, their influences, and their cuisine, this further elevates our experience and appreciation for our community of restaurant partners.
We’re bringing back this series with one of our new partners, Pam and Wendy Drew, owners of Amawele’s South African Kitchen in San Francisco.
Tell us about yourselves and your background
We are twins born and raised in South Africa and moved to San Francisco when we were 22. We originally pursued careers in finance, however, we embarked on the Au Pair program which matched us with families in the United States. While working as nannies and studying in college, we became inspired to open up a restaurant together. Hence, Amawele’s came to be in 2013.
What inspired both of you to open up a restaurant?
We wanted to host a party for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and cater in South African food. Shortly after we started planning this, we realized that there were no South African caterers or restaurants in San Francisco. So we came up with our own solution – we were going to cater food for our own party. The next challenge was to find ingredients, but we managed to locate spices from Indian grocers (ie. curry leaves, garam masala). As the party went on, we received countless compliments on the food and some wondered where we bought it from. This was when we realized that our food could extend beyond just this party.
The next day, we sat down and decided that we were going to open up our own spot and work for ourselves. We had to come up with a name – our father used to call us “Amawele’s”, meaning twins in Zulu. This was perfect, as it embodied our relationship with a South African flare.
What challenges did you face in opening a restaurant?
The biggest challenge was receiving approval for real estate. South African food is unknown in San Francisco so the people whom we needed help from could not envision our success. We had to convince property managers to take a chance on us. We actually had to cook for them to receive their buy-in and prove ourselves as chefs and restaurant owners. It was surprising to us that our ability to secure property was based on their approval of our food.
It was less challenging to receive capital. Most of the process was done online or over the phone, and with English being our first language, people assumed we were British women. It was still a tough process as we didn’t have a credit score and a green card, but we didn’t need to “prove ourselves” in the same way over the phone.
We would say that we have now become the “golden child” of the Rincon Center. As a new cuisine in San Francisco, we attracted many customers primarily through word of mouth. This also brought in business to other restaurants in the food court.
How would you describe the food you serve at Amawele’s?
South African food is a melting pot of different influences and cuisines – English, Indian, Dutch, Malaysian and Native African. There is a lot of rich history behind the food from the several waves of immigration which introduced new flavours to South Africa.
There is a common misconception that South African food is exotic and foreign, like ostrich eggs, but what we eat is common in North America – chicken, beef, lamb, and veggie-based dishes. We wanted to stay true to our flavours while catering to what people in our community enjoy. For example, we changed the bases in our carb-heavy meals to suit the paleo diet while keeping our bold South African flavours.
How are you navigating through COVID-19?
As the pandemic became a reality, our team had to start thinking about a different approach towards our business plan. We started strategizing on how to use the resources we currently had. The biggest impact on the restaurant, bar and catering industry was trying to figure out how we in the industry can continue reaching our customers. We sat down as a team, and figured out how to turn Amawele’s into an e-commerce prepared food company that specializes in South African cuisine. Currently on our site, we offer monthly pre-packaged meals that can be reheated and enjoyed at home.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your journey as restaurant owners?
The biggest lesson we’ve learnt in our journey is that customers love to feel appreciated and included in your journey. It’s important to continuously keep them updated about your business, as they want to be a part of it as well.
A big thank you to Pam and Wendy Drew for letting us into your kitchen virtually and for sharing your story with us.