I visited Stango Cuisine, and Mubanga Chanda, co-owner and chef Mubanga, welcomed me with a bright smile. Due to the virus, we didn’t shake hands, but we did the Wuhan shake. She showed me around the restaurant and took me back into the kitchen. She brought out boxes of sweet potatoes ready to be peeled, dry pinto beans that she will cook from scratch, and the fresh ginger roots she uses.
Chanda is a skillful chef with a passion for bringing Zambian food to C-U. I asked her some questions about how Stango came to be, what dishes are must-try dishes, and how COVID has affected her business.
Smile Politely: Hello! Can you introduce yourself and talk about your role at Stango Cuisine?
Mubanga Chanda: Hello! My name is Mubanga. I am a co-owner and main cook.
SP: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Chanda: Everything on our menu — considering my partner and I developed the menu from scratch. I just love to see food cooked well and looking good.
SP: What was the first thing you remember cooking? How old were you?
Chanda: I think I was 8 or 9 years old when I started learning how to cook Nshima (a Zambian staple). I’d climb on a bucket to reach the stove top, but my mum would be surprised to see how I enjoy cooking now. I was never a kitchen girl when growing up.
SP: When did you first discover your passion for what you’re doing now at Stango?
Chanda: My business partner and I love to eat and travel. Having visited a number of states and tasted different cuisines, we realized we didn’t have Zambia cuisine. This reason motivated us to venture out and share the foods we grew up cooking as young girls back in Zambia. I believe cooking is in every woman’s DNA if you grew up in Africa. You just choose to utilize it or ignore it.
SP: What does a typical day at Stango Cuisine look like for you?
Chanda: It varies from day to day: from receiving our stock from our food vendors, to prepping, marinating, then cooking the dishes. But what remains constant is serving our scrumptious meals to our lovely customers.
SP: How many employees do you have?
Chanda: Four employees plus myself, so five.
SP: Let’s talk about how special Stango is. I’ve heard that Stango might be nation’s only exclusively-Zambian restaurant. Is that true?
Chanda: That is very true. Stango is the first and only Zambian restaurant in the United States. Like I mentioned earlier, we have quite traveled across America, and when we travel, we try to experience other cuisines — and Zambian was missing.
SP: You’ve been open since 2017. How did it start? Can you talk about your restaurant’s journey from opening to now?
Chanda: We were first located at the food court of the Lincoln Square Mall, then we moved to our current location on the southside of the Mall at 140 Lincoln Square in August 2019. We started at the food court to test our market considering we were introducing the Zambian cuisine for the first time. Within a few months, it was clear that our customers were demanding a private dining space. Some customers were asking to have date nights at Stango but were not comfortable with the food court sitting.
SP: Where did you get your training for what you do?
Chanda: As a girl-child in Zambia and probably Africa, we start cooking from a young age. You’re expected to learn and be good at most — if not all — household chores ealier in life. i got my training then even though it wasn’t fun that time.
SP: What’s something interesting that happened at your restaurant recently?
Chanda: Schnucks! We are going be stocking up our cooked food in Schnucks stores. So if you miss the food and we are closed, just go to Schnucks. We are stocking up our chicken curry, beef stew and vegan/vegetarian dishes served with the usual sides. Our usual sides are stewed sweet potatoes, rice, pinto beans, and our Zambian staple food Nshima. We will reserve the oxtail, goat, gizzards, wings plus a few other side dishes to be exclusively served at the restaurant. Also our awesome freshly squeezed ginger juice and beignets will be stocked at Schnucks. Get your Zambian comfort food from Schnucks stores anytime.
SP: What gets you really excited at Stango?
Chanda: I get excited at how the community has embraced us and the Zambian cuisine. Customers from all walks of life reporting back on how they enjoyed the Nshima (which is mostly mispronunced, and that’s alright). It’s a beautiful feeling to see the food you cooked run out because families are having Zambian cuisine for dinner.
SP: What’s something you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not working?
Chanda: If my business partner and I are not discussing Stango’s next move over a glass of wine and popcorn, then I am having a mom-daughter time with my daughter. Once in a while, we will sneak in a trip to one of our neighboring cities, mostly Chicago or St. Louis.
SP: Do you have any tips for ordering? Should people call to place an order or do an online order?
Chanda: We have temporarily suspended breakfast due to COVID-19. We are just serving lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. On Sundays, we are open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.. You can order through Grubhub, Doordash, uberEats, and EatStreet. For pickup, call 844-497-6835 or 217-369-3566. We are open for dine in and outdoor sitting.
SP: What are the best times to place an order?
Chanda: Anytime is a good time, though we do get really busy on some shifts especially dinner. Giving yourself enough time to pick the food is the best way because we usually have a 20 to 40 minute wait time depending on how busy we get between call in and online orders. You can also schedule an order a night before or earlier in the day for later pick up.
SP: What items are must-haves on your menu? Are there certain items that carry out well?
Chanda: Honestly, everything on our menu is good though goat meat and oxtail are special. Also our gizzards are really flavorful. All our foods carry out well. Our packaging is microwaveable just in case the food loses heat on the way.
SP: What’s popular among your customers?
Chanda: Our freshly squeezed ginger juice, beef pies, and beignets are popular at the Saturday Urbana Market at the Square. Oxtail, Nshima and greens, Emma’s platter (a sample of most our foods), and also Chio’s platter (vegan and vegetarian) are the other favorites at the restaurant.
SP: What is something that many people haven’t tried that they should try from your menu?
Chanda: Our customers are adventurous; they have tried everything. I would just encourage the vegans and vegetarians to try our flavorful dishes: beans, greens, Nshima, stewed sweet potatoes, and rice. These are gluten-free and have no meat or dairy.
SP: Things have changed so much since March. How has Stango been affected?
Chanda: We have been affected really bad — just like every family-owned restaurant out there. Like I mentioned above, we have suspended serving breakfast and are only running on limited hours. The community has been supportive, but we are still way below our sales average.
SP: What ways can C-U support Stango right now?
Chanda: While realizing that most families are also struggling, we are grateful that we still have the community come out to eat. Please share the word and come back whenever possible. Just continue supporting us the best you can. A lot of people have no jobs. too, and eating out is not a priority for many right now. We are all struggling across the board, but this shall pass, and everything will get back to normal.
SP: Anything you’d like to share with our readers?
Chanda: We truly appreciate the support from the community and we will try our best to stay open. We are in this together. Hang in there. It shall be well.
140 Lincoln Square Mall
T-Sa 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Su 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.