‘We’re just hanging on’ – Digbeth cafe forced to halve opening hours due to roadworks

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The owners of a Digbeth cafe claim they were forced to introduce a three-day week due to roadworks which started outside their business in the spring of last year.

The Disturbance Zone starts just beyond Digbeth Police Station and now runs past the nearby Karibu for around half a mile – all the way past many local landmarks, from Digbeth Institute to South & City College, Zellig, the Custard Factory, 1368 Old Crown Pub and Rainbow Pub and Concert Hall towards Camp Hill Circus.

The East African flavored cafe Karibu – named after the Swahili word for ‘welcome’ – is now tucked away behind a fence that has made the sidewalk so narrow it is now barely wide enough for two pedestrians can pass in both directions.

You can see the scope of work in the video above.

Read more: A customer makes a kind gesture at the Digbeth cafe forced to close due to roadworks

Instead of running a business they expected to thrive nearly three years after it launched, husband and wife owners Maj and Azy Mandania said they were just “hanging on” – hence their three-day week 1970s style.

The cafe was first featured by BirminghamLive in April 2019 when its opening offered something completely different to the city’s growing cafe culture.



Cafe Karibu owner Maj Mandania has reduced opening hours to a three-day week from Thursday to Saturday due to road works outside

But then the pandemic hit in March 2020 and the first major lockdown was followed by periods of additional restrictions.

Roadwork started in the spring of 2021 and a backhoe was pictured almost inside the front door in June last year.

Summer presented an additional problem – more dust and noise from the demolition of the Moat Lane Markets multi-storey car park across Bradford Street.



African-style sunshine floods Karibu but the view is over a green mesh shielding roadworks
African-style sunshine floods Karibu but the view is over a green mesh shielding roadworks

Now the Mandania family has learned that road works are expected to continue until 2023.

Reconstruction work on the main street after the Digbeth Institute will take so long that the road will be made ‘presentable’ for the ‘best’ Commonwealth Games ever from July 28 to August 8 before construction work begins. resume in earnest and continue until next year.

As well as upgrading the ‘public urban realm’, the works will involve upgrading underground utilities and creating a bus lane and new tram lane for the £227m West Midlands Metro Eastside extension sterling – cost including public domain works works out to around £140,000 per meter

The one-mile service will start outside Wetherspoon The Square Peg pub on Corporation Street and travel to the Old Crown pub on High Street Deritend across Heath Mill Lane via HS2 and Meriden Street.

The total length of the road works currently out of town from Karibu is approximately 800 meters along a reduced single lane road towards Camp Hill Circus.



Maj and Azy Mandania were concerned about the impact of road works in June 2021 - they are expected to continue until 2023
Maj and Azy Mandania were concerned about the impact of road works in June 2021 – they are expected to continue until 2023

Battle of Karibu Roadworks

Although an old central balustrade between Meriden Street and the Digbeth Institute has always meant that pedestrians could only cross Digbeth’s main road at certain points, the presence of taller fences and deep holes make walking possible from side to side more impenetrable than ever. .

Anyone across the road from Birmingham Coach Station would do well to spot Karibu.

We visited the cafe and roadworks to stream on Facebook Live – once we were inside the cafe at the start you can see our tour of the roadworks about 13 minutes from our walk through the whole affected area



Excavations outside the Karibu cafe in January 2022 - the spire of St Martin in the Bull Ring Church and rotunda are in the distance to show how close the store is to the Bullring shopping center
Excavations outside the Karibu cafe in January 2022 – the spire of St Martin in the Bull Ring Church and rotunda are in the distance to show how close the store is to the Bullring shopping center

BirminghamLive first highlighted the cafe’s plight in June last year when a kind customer appealed JustGiving after Mr Mandania felt he had no choice but to temporarily close .

Now, about eight months later, the work on a larger area is even more intense.

And with more excavations also continuing on the corner of Meriden Street, Mr Mandania said they had been forced to introduce a three-day week

Mr Mandania, who grew up in Zanzibar just 15 minutes from Freddie Mercury’s childhood home, said: “We are hanging in there. We know Digbeth will be a better place in the future and will thrive a lot.

“The reason we chose this location is to have all the universities, colleges, Birmingham bus station, arenas and everyone going in and out of the city.



View of the works from inside the Karibu cafe
View of the works from inside the Karibu cafe

“There are a lot of foreign students, including those from East Africa, who would like to go home and have their food.

“So we thought we would have something closer to them. We had a good start (in 2019) but unfortunately the pandemic came and then the road works. So we’re just trying to hang on to survive and let’s see where this takes us.”

Ms Mandania, who is from Greater Tanzania, said: “Road works are a big hurdle.

“We had to close working days – we were open for six days, now we’re only open for three – Thursday to Saturday.



Pavement access along the Karibu cafe has been significantly reduced by the latest road works on Digbeth
Pavement access along the Karibu cafe has been significantly reduced by the latest road works on Digbeth

“It’s been a really tough time, but let’s see what happens and how long we can do this with our East African street food, all freshly cooked by me and Maj himself.

“When you walk in, it’s like walking into a house with the music, the food, the vibe, even our customer service – we’re a place of friends and family.

“And we also have a lot of East Africans coming in. People come in and enjoy it and they love it – they feel like they’ve been brought home.

“We don’t regret it, we’ve worked hard and people appreciate it.”



The view from the Smithfield House side of Digbeth towards Karibu Cafe (centre) - Digbeth Police Station is on the left, Birmingham Coach Station on the right
The view from the Smithfield House side of Digbeth towards Karibu Cafe (centre) – Digbeth Police Station is on the left, Birmingham Coach Station on the right

What the Midland Metro Alliance says

MMA has confirmed that the main street through Digbeth will be made ‘presentable’ for the Commonwealth Games before work begins in earnest again.

A spokesperson said: “Work along Digbeth High Street for the Birmingham Eastside Tube Extension is expected to be completed in phases, with some work continuing after the games. The main construction work on Digbeth High Street will be completed on 22/23.

“The team are currently carrying out excavation, drainage and curb work along Digbeth High Street, while work to upgrade utilities in the area is also underway. This work is needed before the major work, such as track laying, can begin.



Karibu cafe can take you away from the road works outside into a world of Swahili
Karibu cafe can take you away from the road works outside into a world of Swahili

“During the Commonwealth Games, we will ensure the area is left in a presentable condition for the thousands of visitors to the area.

“Work, including the laying of the tracks, will resume after the games when the remaining work can be completed.”

BirminghamLive asked if businesses like Karibu are eligible for help and from whom?

The spokesperson added: “The West Midlands Combined Authority is offering assistance to small businesses and retailers whose trade may be affected while tram work is underway, through its financial assistance scheme.

“Businesses along the route, including Karibu Coffee, have been advised that they can apply for assistance through the scheme, with all applications handled independently. Some businesses along the Digbeth Works have applied for and received assistance under this scheme.”



Barely 100 yards from Karibu, the view towards the city center from the corner of Oxford Street, with Birmingham Coach Station to the left
Barely 100 yards from Karibu, the view towards the city center from the corner of Oxford Street, with Birmingham Coach Station to the left

What is available at Karibu

If you fancy a simple snack, Karibu sells East African donuts called Mandazi – which aren’t as sweet as their British or American counterparts – or there are rice-based Vitumbua buns, also £1.

The wider menu ranges from omelettes and sandwiches (favorite chicken tikka with cheese for £5.95) to house specialties including ‘Muhogo and Kachumbari’, a £6.50 vegan dish including root vegetables fries with chilli and lime served with red onions, tomatoes, fresh cabbage and homemade salsa.

Kuku Paka is an East African chicken curry with pieces of grilled chicken in a coconut sauce with turmeric, green chillies, lemon and fresh coriander served with homemade chapati – £8.50.

Coffee prices are on par with high street prices – £3 for a latte, £3.10 for a cappuccino and the cafe also sells a range of specialty teas including Kilimanjaro Rooibos.

Read more:Fears Broad Street tram line not ready for Birmingham Commonwealth Games

Read more: Incredible images from then and now show Broad Street’s dramatic transformation over the years

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