Pickering restaurateur hungry for Raptors win, ready to celebrate star customer
Published Thursday, June 13, 2019 6:47PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 13, 2019 7:44PM EDT
A small restaurant in Pickering is getting ready to throw a big party if the Raptors win the NBA championship.
When Yvette Kavungu was a child, she had two passions—cooking and basketball. She now owns a restaurant called Ma Yvé Grill in Pickering and her food has attracted some star players from the Toronto Raptors.
Kavungu specializes in what she describes as flavourful Congolese cuisine, something former Raptor Bismack Biyombo was looking for one day.
“He was here with his manager, they came back from Congo I think the day before and the manager said ‘Oh my God where can I find that food?’ so they Googled and then they found me” said Kavungu, who admits she didn’t recognize the six-foot-nine star.
“In the conversation I said ‘oh you are tall, you should be playing basketball,’ and he said ‘I do,’ but it didn’t click with me. I didn’t think that he was famous.”
Biyombo would go on to become a regular customer and when Serge Ibaka came to Toronto, he introduced him to Kavungu and her restaurant.
“I don’t have a delivery service but I deliver for him. He’s special,” says Kavungu with a laugh.
Ibaka told Kavungu that her cooking reminds him of his mother’s. According to Kavungu, he is a fan of her fumbwa- a dish made with dried spinach, smoked fish and peanut butter.
The next time Ibaka comes by the restaurant, the Raptors star will be getting a present from Kavungu. She purchased a large and colourful portrait of Ibaka, which was created by a young Congolese artist.
Kavunga started cooking as a child in the kitchen of her mother’s restaurant. She moved to Canada more than 20 years ago and without giving up her full-time job, opened up her own restaurant just six years ago.
Kavunga also speaks three languages and she says her cooking has become popular among the large Congolese community in the GTA and beyond.
“People come here from Mississauga, from Niagara Falls, from Ottawa,” Kavunga said. “I’ve had customers from Michigan, Houston, Chicago.”
It’s not just the food that brings in the customers; it’s also Ibaka’s endorsement. The basketball player isn’t shy about talking up the restaurant and has done so to multiple news agencies.
“The food’s great, atmosphere’s awesome, she’s very nice” said Ernest Chan, a customer who admits he first learned of the spot through Ibaka. “It’s probably Game 6, Ibaka’s place, Biyombo’s place- it’s a special place. We’re a special city. We’re probably going to win- hopefully!”
And if the Raptors win Game 6, Kavungu is planning a party with plenty of food. If they need a seventh game to win, she’ll hold off on the celebrations.
“Cross my fingers we’ll get it,” she said. “Go Raptors go!”