Starting a new business is tough, especially when it gets off the ground in the middle of a pandemic. It's even tougher when it's a completely new career journey, but luckily, food is in Brenda Ogero's blood. Born in Kenya into a family of cooks, chefs and gardeners, cooking and food have never been far from Ogero's mind. Her aunt was a chef in Kenya and her parents had a bakery there before the family made the journey to live in the United States when she was 12 years old. Ogero was raised in Dallas before moving to Arizona for nursing school, but something was missing.
"I think I came to Arizona to know who I am and what is it that Brenda wants to do, what is it that Brenda loves, and how can Brenda thrive. I found myself not really tapping into the nursing world as much, but I do commend all my colleagues and friends who have been in the health care industry by helping patients," Ogero says. "I'm an extrovert, and I think I love being around people but in a different way, and I think food brings us together in a different way."
Ogero epitomizes what it means to go with your passion, and she's always had a passion for the cuisine of her birth country, which led to the opening of Benyaz Kitchen in late 2019. She operates out of a commercial kitchen in Mesa that does both delivery and catering orders within 25 miles of the restaurant. Local pickup at the kitchen will begin as soon as its safer to do so, but right now Ogero is a one-woman show.
"Oh my goodness! Tell me about it," Ogero says. "The cooking, the marketing, the driver. I am all of the above, but I do have assistants as far as who is going to be able to deliver at certain locations."
She calls herself a recipe artist and loves coming up with a menu that represent what Kenyan food stands for — a dynamic mix of spices from Africa infused within each dish. Ogero says that we're actually probably familiar with some of the most prevalent spices they use like turmeric, curry and masala. This is because Kenya is on the eastern side of Africa, and spices are easily imported from India. Kenya also borders Ethiopia which accounts for some similarities as well. The heat in Kenyan food is more of a spicy sweet, as compared to cuisines like Thai that rate their dishes on a spice level of one to five or one to 10. When it comes to getting people familiar with her type of food, Ogero says they're still learning and discovering, but she gets a big boost from the many Kenyans that live in the Chandler-Mesa area.
"It helps me become more comfortable knowing that my culture is out here, and they understand what is at stake," Ogero says. "There isn't any Kenyan restaurants or even Kenyan food per se here in Arizona, so the diversity and bringing cultural awareness is definitely important, and that helps build awareness."
So far, the most popular dishes are samosas, either meat or vegetable-filled, and the Swahili beef stew. The meat samosas can be made from either beef or chicken, and the veggie ones have spiced cauliflower or cabbage. Ogero says the stew is similar in a way to fajitas in Mexican cuisine but in stew form. It comes with chapatis, what she compares to soft tortillas, their form of spicy pico de gallo or kachumbari and rice. It's a comforting and satisfying dish that is popular in the Kenyan culture.
Benyaz also sells different types of juice, blended with fresh fruits and vegetables. Ogero has learned how to grow her own crops and has developed a bit of a green thumb, drawing inspiration from volunteering at Spaces of Opportunity, a community garden in Phoenix, and by bonding with her mother over a love of gardening and nutrition.
"My mom has a whole garden in her backyard where she's grown kale, tomatoes...they even have a small apple tree, so it's inspired me to be very health conscious about what I eat and understanding that the foods that we eat are nutritional in different ways," Ogero says. "So I thank my mom for that as well, because coming from Kenya to here, they also were farmers but for her to even start her passion again in gardening, it showed me that my mom has another side that I never knew"
And as passionate woman in her first year owning a small business, Ogero is happy to get any and all reviews, good or bad, and she's determined to perfect each dish no matter what. It's all part of the learning process of this year, she says.
We're all like, 'We can't wait until 2020 is over, but for me honestly I think I tapped into something more than I expected." Ogero says. "The fear of starting something just went away, and I just said, 'Why was I holding back when I knew I could do it?'"
Benyaz Kitchen is offering delivery service within a 25-mile radius from zip code 85225 until further notice. Place your preorders on their website Monday through Thursday. Delivery is Wednesday and Friday through Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m.; 480.616.3982; www.benyazkitchen.com