The best kinds of restaurants are the ones that tell a story about the people behind the business, be it a tale about the owner’s grandmother’s cooking or a tangible reflection of a chef’s passion for specific ingredients and culinary traditions.
Chakalaka, a new restaurant and bar on 17th Avenue S.W. paints a picture of owner Ronnie Mupambwa and the life he’s built here in Calgary.
Mupambwa is a popular nightclub DJ and also the force behind Lately, a nightlife-friendly lounge and restaurant just a block up the street from Chakalaka.
While Lately is definitely a representation of Mupambwa’s position in the late-night scene, he wanted his new restaurant to tell a deeper story about who he is and what he believes in.
Originally from Zimbabwe (he moved to Calgary a decade ago), Mupambwa’s DJ sets have always melded his African background with all of the other multi-cultural influences that speak to his club audiences. He wanted to open a restaurant that creates a similar feel of inclusivity.
The word “chakalaka” refers to a South African relish that the restaurant doesn’t actually serve (since it’s usually paired with bread or similarly heavy items, Mupambwa doesn’t want to overfill his customers or discourage them from ordering a wide variety of tapas-style dishes), but the name is a good representation of his own heritage and aim to bring people together, figuratively speaking for now, of course.
Mupambwa worked with head chef Thomas Kagoro and sous chef Scott Bradshaw to build a menu that intentionally spans countries and continents so guests can experience a multitude of different flavours. Just like Mupambwa’s DJ crowds might enjoy an Afrobeat song followed by some Latin hip-hop, Chakalaka diners can mix genres of food, so to speak.
“My success in the entertainment industry has been in bringing people from different backgrounds together through music. Now I’m using that same concept with drinks and food,” Mupambwa says.
“People from all backgrounds can come to Chakalaka and feel welcome. I wanted to touch on the most popular cuisines from around the world that are favourable to everyone.”
A typical table at Chakalaka might be covered with small plates of things like shrimp ceviche with pickled beet crema ($6.75), Indian pani puri with crunchy khatta meetha and tamarind water ($7), and skewers of jerk chicken ($3.75), miso charred tofu ($4) and South African boerewors sausage ($4.75).
Chakalaka’s showstopper is its tableside hot stone cooking, where guests can tend to their own pieces of raw kangaroo, ostrich, alligator, and frogs’ legs that sizzle in butter on a blazing hot slab of stone before being dipped in ponzu or chimichurri sauce ($45 for seven ounces of meat, with an additional charge for extra meat or sauce).
The restaurant’s drinks match the food, with eclectic and often dramatically presented cocktails representing the flavours of South Africa, Japan, Peru and other international locales.
Mupambwa has some big ideas, but Chakalaka is also a big space: located in the former 1410 World Bier Haus, the restaurant has ample room on its main indoor level, even under COVID-19 restrictions, but things will really come alive once the weather warms up and the pandemic starts to fade.
The front of the main room is outfitted with garage doors that open up to an extensive sidewalk patio and the building also has a downstairs area (it’s currently a brightly decorated selfie room, but Mupambwa envisions it becoming a VIP lounge once restrictions are relaxed), a rooftop patio, and an expansive yard in the back alley where Mupambwa hopes to eventually hold lively barbecues like the ones he grew up with in Zimbabwe.