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Madatally Manji: Karatina Hawker Who Went On To Found House Of Manji ‘Digestive’ Products

Madatally Manji: Karatina Hawker Who Went On To Found House Of Manji ‘Digestive’ Products
Madatally Manji Photocredit/Whownskenya.com

House of Manji is one of the most successful biscuit manufacturers in the country. The company, whose products, are distributed by hundreds of small and large scale retailers in the country, traces its origin to a bakery in Ngara. Its founder, Madatally Manji, started off as a hawker in Karatina before venturing into formal business.


Madatally was a third generation Kenyan of Asian descent. His parents left Bombay for Kenya in 1908 and he grew up around Nyeri, Karatina and Murang’a, where his family owned shops and grocery storess.

His autobiography, Memoirs of a Biscuit Baron was published in 1995 and details his journey from hawking to establishing a biscuit manufacturer.

Early foray into business

He had realized that farmers and traders were so busy selling products that they did not have the time to visit stores in Karatina to make purchases.

Hence, he started selling them wares they needed from the stores and shops, saving them time and allowing them to stay in the market.

He did this during his two-hour school lunch break, from 12pm to 2pm. He would eventually buy a small bakery in Ngara at Sh10,000 which was a lot of money at the time.

The Growth and Success of House of Manji

The bakery started by manufacturing bread which became a hit among many people. He capitalized on the fact that Kenyans who had gone to fight world war II would be drawn towards bread.

The sales were massive and he bought land along Haile Selassie Avenue and established the Whitehouse Bakery.  However, world war 2 led to wheat rationing which greatly affected the business. This and the proliferation of similar businesses made the competition stiff.

Instead of closing shop, Madatally started making biscuits.  It was challenging since there were a lot of restrictions and wheat farming was a preserve of the whites.

He would purchase Jaggery from Kisumu and his biscuits were known for their dark brown colour, at a time when this was not a color associated with biscuits.

People loved the taste and he supplied them to army canteens who found the taste tantalizing. The venture’s success was praised beyond the borders of Kenya with a London Newspaper called The Sunday Time dubbing him a biscuit baron.

In 1953, he set up House of Manji in Nairobi’s Industrial area. The business was inaugurated by Evelyn Baring, then serving as the governor of Kenya. It grew to a household name and is still popular to date, although under a different leadership. Their Family, Marie and Digestive biscuits are a staple in most homes.

Manji also brought the popular cereal Weetabix to Kenya and established other food companies outside Kenya.

Personal Life and Death

The entrepreneur was married to Fatima Hajee and the couple had three children, Julie Zulekha, Salim Manji, and Firoze. He passed away in September 2006.

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