Thursday, January 21, 2016

Farewell Our Brother Shantilal ‘Sam’ Patel

At Speke Resort, Munyonyo, there is a lush and neatly manicured garden and at its entrance, is a brass plaque that reads - Sam’s Green.

In 1998, Speke Resort was nothing more than a barren track of land that played host to motor sport rally sprints. But in the middle of that barren track of land - now known as Sam’s Green, there stood a weather beaten 40-foot container that churned out burgers and sold the odd cold drink. The man running the container was Shantilal ‘Sam’ Patel.

If I recall, he wore a hat which was almost as weather beaten as the container itself, an apron that bore traces of tomato sauce, mustard and slices of onions that had been wiped onto it. He stood there with a puzzled look – perhaps wondering if I had any intention of placing an order or, if I was merely gawping at what on earth he was doing in the middle of nowhere selling burgers.

I was of course gawping, but I did place an order. Eventually we talked and I found Sam laid back, relaxed and at ease with what he was doing in Uganda.

Though he dabbled in property, Sam was a restaurateur at heart and his Bombo Road restaurant – aptly named Sam’s, was a favourite with Kampalan’s especially at a time when people didn’t eat out and fine cuisine was all but unheard of. 

It was next to impossible to dine at Sam’s and walk out without popping into Your Choice that sat within the complex. Sam was always there if not, in the restaurant. He liked to talk and whatever conversation that was settled upon – be it politics or the state of the roads, Sam would always swirl it round to the subject he loved best – food and the need for Uganda to have places where people can go and eat good food in a good environment.

Sam’s was the talk of town. It was the hottest restaurant in town, and when he sold up, many of his patrons were taken by surprise. I was beside myself because I was a regular there. Months earlier over coffee, he had mumbled something about a place he was opening just down the road from State House, Nakasero. Yes he mumbled, because he often put a hand over his mouth whenever he spoke though at the time he was telling me about his new venture, I wasn’t too sure if it was his usual mumble or, a hush hush mumble because he didn’t want people to know his new restaurant was literally at the gates to State House.        

The new restaurant – Faze II opened to rave reviews and was so successful, it spawned Faze III in Entebbe. Because it was Sam, only he could pull it off. He drew and charmed the corporate world as well as serenading just about everybody who walked through the gates. Most evenings, you would find him sitting at his table with his better half – Linda, who was an immense pillar of strength whom he relied on. Occasionally he would get up to show a waiter how it’s done or go over to placate a disgruntled diner.

We always remember Sam at the first Kampala Marathon in 2004, when he was doing the catering for the MTN hospitality tent. Along with Thomas Bragaw the then MTN CEO and his wife Linda, Tina Byaruhanga, Erik van Veen, Gasper Mbowa, Andrew Wandera, Patrick Oyulu and a few others, at 7:30am, Sam shouts out to us. “There’s no point standing there all idle when an English breakfast is about to be served and cold Tuskers await Tim”. He didn’t have to tell me twice.

A group of close knit friends and I, who bonded under the name Contenass, one day approached Sam and asked if he could do a whole roast pig for us – something that was not available on the Faze II menu. He took us by surprise with an instant yes answer and thus every three months we would gather, catch up, drink and laugh into the night.

I am sure that wherever Peter Odoki, Guma Kaganzi, David Katanywa, Ian Ibaarah, Joel Wanduka, Oyulu, Richard Maitum, Rukaaka Muguzi, Raymond Byarugaba, Andrew Matsiko, Allan Oguttu, Brian Kasente, Mark Rumanyika, Mark Rwomushana, Peter Ofong, Richard Okuti, Ambrose Senoga, Adrian Mugasha, Paul Katarikawe, Pius Kwesiga, Tendo Kabenge, Steven  Katiewaho, Paul and Simon Kaheru and Sandor Walusimbi are today, they will take a minutes silence to pause and toast to Sam, for he made those pork sessions a memorable Friday night outing for us all.

And let’s not forget the legendary let’s get sloshed cook-outs at Munyonyo with former Nile Bank MD, Anton Bently, Martin and Camille Aliker, Richard Byarugaba (now MD, NSSF) amongst others where we feasted on pork that fell off the bone and made merry way into the night.

Sam felt at home in Uganda and I guess even if he was abandoned in the Brazilian rainforests or in the Namib Desert, he would have no difficulty in making friends or setting up a restaurant. 

Sam, who died after a short illness at his home in Makyinde on Wednesday 20th, January, was a friend to everybody and I can honestly say I never heard anybody talk ill of him or tarnish his name in the 16 years that I knew him. If he had any regrets, then I guess it was the ill advised decision to sell the 'Sam’s' brand name when he sold the restaurant.

An abridged version of this tribute appears in New Vision, Friday, 22nd January.  

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