Last updated on January 11th, 2022 at 04:19 pm
After bringing authentic African food to farmers markets and catered events across southeastern Wisconsin for the past 12 years, Immy’s African Cuisine is planting roots on Milwaukee’s East Side.
In March, the business will open its first restaurant location at 2845 N. Oakland Ave., serving lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. The space was formerly home to longtime Middle Eastern restaurant Shahrazad, which recently moved three blocks north on Oakland Ave.
Immy’s in recent years has become a staple at summertime events like the Shorewood Farmers Market, Brady Street Festival and Locust Street Festival of Music and Art, having gained a loyal following with ethnic dishes like chicken curry, sambusas and potato bajia. The business initially grew its reach catering meals for groups of international students at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin and UW-Milwaukee – offering a taste of home to some – as well as other organizations that work with African immigrants and refugees.
Owner Immy Kaggwa launched Immy’s as a catering business in 2008 while she and her husband raised their three young children. She remembers the early days when her native cuisine was not as popular among locals.
“Back then, it wasn’t like now where people are curious about trying new things. The awareness wasn’t there as much as it is now,” Kaggwa, who grew up in Uganda and Kenya and immigrated to the U.S. in 1990.
Today, it’s the loyal customer base that has helped make it possible to add a brick-and-mortar location, she said. One customer helped inspire the move in a big way. Michael Vittucci, who owns a several bars in Milwaukee, reached out to Kaggwa via Facebook after trying her food at the Shorewood farmers market last year.
“He said he enjoyed the food and if I’m ever looking for a location, he has one,” said Kaggwa, who wasn’t really looking for a location at the time but was concerning her husband with how demanding her work had gotten traveling from festival to festival.
Kaggwa and Vitucci, who owns the Oakland Avenue building, spoke about a potential lease deal. Then, Kaggwa did her homework on the neighborhood, which included gathering feedback from her nephew and daughter who know the area well from attending nearby UW-Milwaukee. She also talked to others in the local restaurant industry. They all encouraged her to jump on the opportunity.
Currently, Immy’s operates out of a shared commercial kitchen located on West Tower Road on Milwaukee’s northwest side but soon with a larger kitchen space all to herself, Kaggwa is looking forward to showcasing her talent in more ways. She plans to add new menu items that she always wanted to serve but couldn’t pull off with a mobile kitchen. Those items include African donuts, tropical fruit salad, banana-mango bread, and a selection of beverages from smoothies to coffee and tea sourced from Africa.
Even with the addition of a restaurant space, Immy’s will still have a presence at summertime events but probably no more than five a year, said Kaggwa. She plans to use the exposure from those events to market her restaurant and weekly specials to new and existing customers. And Immy’s catering arm is poised to gain new business from groups that rent out its new restaurant space for small-scale private events.
Immy’s 80-seat restaurant space is undergoing some minor renovations before opening in March. Until then, the business will continue to operate out of its current site, with plans to offer online ordering for individual takeout soon.