Baobab Fare’s Waka is moving into Eastern Market’s former Russell Street Deli space

Detroit’s East African food truck Waka, a sister brand of the Baobab Fare restaurant in the New center area, just announced the establishment of a permanent location in Eastern Market, taking over the former beloved Russell Street Deli space.

Waka initially launched during Detroit’s Noel Night celebration in 2022, serving as a street food offshoot of Baobab Fare, which Hamissi Mamba and his wife Nadia Nijimbere, both refugees from Burundi, opened in February 2021. Since its debut, the vibrant yellow Waka food truck has made monthly appearances outside Shed 5 at Eastern Market, but once-a-month visits are definitely not enough.

Later this summer, Waka by Baobab Fare will open at 2465 Russell St., bringing the community back to the gathering place that was home to Russell Street Deli for over three decades.

“We didn’t want to go anywhere else to start this,” co-owner Hamissi Mamba says. “People here in Detroit take care of us, so this idea of bringing East African street food to America has to start here. This is home, and we are so thankful to be able to grow our business and build on our story right here in Eastern Market.”

Reflecting on his childhood in Burundi, Mamba remembers his mother selling chapati and brochettes in the bustling markets of Bujumbura to support their family. He sees Eastern Market as a fitting location for the first brick-and-mortar iteration of Waka.

click to enlarge The Waka food truck serving customers during the NFL Draft. - Courtesy of Waka / Booth One Creative

Courtesy of Waka / Booth One Creative

The Waka food truck serving customers during the NFL Draft.

Mamba and Nijimbere are ambitious as of late, as the couple purchased a building on Detroit’s east side for a second location of Baobab Fare in March. However, Waka Eastern Market will be a distinct concept, still paying homage to the couple’s heritage, but in a more fast-casual way.

The new spot will feature flavorful stewed meats and vegetables wrapped in chapati, a flaky East African flatbread. Expanding from the food truck’s offerings, Waka will also include traditional street food dishes like brochettes — East African-style skewered meat grilled over charcoal.

Waka will accommodate around 30 guests with fast-casual counter service for both dine-in and takeout. Additionally, it will offer a curated selection of coffee, chocolate, beverages, and other items from the couple’s retail line, Soko.

“All of the flavors that people love from Baobab Fare are here, but Waka is even more fast and accessible,” Nijimbere says. “We are proud of what we’ve done with the food truck, but a permanent kitchen and a place you can always find Waka is so important. We are so excited to bring even more tastes of our culture to Detroit.”

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