“When you think of Kigali, think of Café Neo… we’re re-introducing the coffee drinking experience in the city.” – Che Rupari
Café Neo is all about good vibes, soulful ambiance – and of course, the perfect cup of Rwandan brewed coffee.
From the moment you step inside this quaint café located in the new KBC building, you get the sense that this is not just another coffee shop.
You hear the smooth, soulful sounds of Erykah Badu playing softly in the background. You smell freshly ground coffee beans brewing behind the counter. You see the smiling faces of the staff and the customers, laughing or typing on their laptops or even singing along. Whether you’re looking for a cool quiet place to check your emails or craving for a hot cappuccino, Cafe Neo provides that and so much more.
Che Rupari, co-owner of Cafe Neo, says when there are real people behind the brand, there’s a different feel, a different experience and an emotional connection. They are very proud to be serving only the highest grade of Rwandan-grown coffee. Ultimately their goal is to create a cozy yet vibrant space where people can connect and mingle. If you’re looking for the perfect place to check your email while grabbing a light lunch, Cafe Neo delivers. They offer more than just coffee and drinks. Their simple yet ultra affordable menu which includes smoothies, sandwiches and pastries, is what drives traffic to their new location on the groundfloor of KBC, Kacyiru.
Café Neo officially opened its doors in June 2015 at a beautiful outdoor, open-air space in Kacyiru.
But many people do not know the background story of the two Rwandan owners who returned home after spending 25+ years in the Diaspora.
Che Rupari and Gilbert Gatali are actually cousins who joined forces after moving to Rwanda in search of new business opportunities. While Gatali had several years of experience in the coffee export industry, Rupari’s background was actually in modern apparel and hats. Rupari founded a company called ‘Big It Up’, a well known brand amongst the East African communities in Montreal and Toronto, Canada and actually sold his merchandise during the events previously known the Rwandan Convention of North America.
They both make several trips with their staff members every month to travel outside of Kigali and engage with the local Rwandan farmers who supply their coffee. A visit that Rupari says is incredibly important for their staff members to appreciate the breadth of hard work that goes into cultivating the land and producing a valuable crop…at the same time instilling a sense of pride that they are serving a high quality product to their customers every day that is home grown.
In addition to the out of town trips, they even brought the farmers to Kigali to visit the cafe and actually drink their first cup of coffee! Who knew coffee farmers had never even tasted the fruits of their labor? Building lasting relationships with the staff and the farmers, Rupari says, is also a part of the Neo brand.
You can capture the same chill vibe experience at any of the Kigali locations: KBC building in Kacyiru, The Office building in Kiyovu (rooftop) as well as the island located in the lobby of the M&M Plaza building in Gishushu.
Café Neo is actually a pan-African brand with a total of 8 locations in Nigeria: six in Lagos and two in the capital city of Abuja. Rupari and Gatali partnered with Nigerian business owners and opened their first café in Lagos back in 2014. Now they proudly export and serve the best Rwandan coffee in all 8 Nigerian locations. Rupari also emphasized that we should appreciate and highlight these gifts of nature that we usually never experience until we are sitting in coffee shops in the West.
As small business owners in Rwanda, Gatali and Rupari said they have faced a great number of challenges but it’s been the most rewarding experience as they are constantly learning and evolving to meet the demands of the market.
They expressed excitement about living and working on the continent and said that Rwanda, being somewhat of a virgin market, provided them with the opportunity to reinvent themselves in relatively new sector and create new experiences for all demographics of Kigalians to enjoy. The theme of their cafes is very industrial – subtle earth tones coupled with wood and metal – all locally sourced materials. The “Made in Rwanda” movement touches all sectors and it’s great to see it being embraced in the service sector as well.
Rupari, a lover of art & music, says they have future plans to host events, creating an intimate, “after 5” setting featuring local wines, while providing a space for local artists to perform and other creatives to showcase their work and talents.
For more information about what’s going on at Cafe Neo, follow them on Twitter @cafeneokigali
Photo credits: Nadege Imbabazi and Rurangwa Mazimpaka Emmanuel