Fast Food Grows Fast in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa has a rich food culture, with restaurants featuring cuisine from around the world. Still, the development of fast food restaurants and chains hasn’t been as robust. Yoseph Mekonnen reports the changing trend in recent years.

The exact place of the origin of hamburger has been a subject of much lore. However, no one disagrees about its German origin. 

Here’s what is known for sure: this German treat made its way to the United States in the 1950s and played a major role in the creation of the fast-food industry, which has now taken over the world. 

And Ethiopia is no exception.

 “Several people are developing the culture of consuming fast-food passionately,” says Girum Asrat, 29, who runs Celavie Chicken and Burger with his sister around Bole Medehanialem in Addis Ababa. 

They started the business six years ago in a small house. The house was so small that it only accommodated about four customers at a time.  “Most of our customers used to take the food to their homes or offices rather than eating at our place,” Girum remembers. But after two years, they moved their business to a relatively bigger place, which is not far from where they started, near Sheger House, in the nearby vicinity of Bole Medehanialem. At the new location, business became very lucrative; in fact, on average, they now have around 400 customers a day. 

Girum and his sister have experienced quite a bit of success. They have now opened another branch not too far from their original location.

Still, despite the potential for the success of fast food restaurants, most of them in Addis Ababa are small, usually operated by one or two individuals. 

Michael Tadesse, 27, is the owner of one such restaurants. He graduated from General Wingate Technical and Vocational School eight years ago, where he studied to be a chef and he has been working at restaurants ever since. Since graduating, he has dreamed about opening his own fast food restaurant.

Now he has opened his own fast-food out let called Ahun-Ahun, which is not far from Celavie Chicken and Burger, a place where many fast food shops are found. He opened the restaurant with his two friends and it took around ETB130,000 to start the business.

“The business is rewarding,’’ says Michael, while sitting in his tiny pink- and yellow-painted restaurant, which has only four chairs with one table. While one of his business partners takes orders, he prepares the food. “We started it eight months ago and now we are thinking about opening another branch,” he added.     

In order to open their restaurant, Michael and his friends had conducted market research for two months to identify potentially lucrative locations for the business; finally they spotted the current location. This business is surrounded by night clubs and NGOs. People who spend time at night clubs prefer fast food since they can find them late at night; people who work in NGOs also prefer them because they can take their food with them to work, explains Michael.

Hermela Guta, 23, prefers to eat at fast food restaurants because she wants to eat something different from the common Ethiopian diet that she frequently eats at home. However, she says that she chooses the restaurants carefully because she has had bad experiences with restaurants regarding poor hygiene in the kitchen. Indeed, there are some concerns with the ingredients used to make fast food, since restaurants use ingredients that get easily poisoned like mayonnaise and creams which can expire quickly.

Though fast food restaurants are becoming popular among customers, starting a business can be difficult. For example, Girum’s business, Celavie, was fiercely challenged by the lack of inputs. When the business started and the number of customers grew, they encountered problems with their supply of chicken breasts and vegetables. 

In order to solve this problem, Girum and his sister decided to open a farm. They have now a small farm 45Km to south of Addis Ababa. “We consume about 200 kg chickens daily,” says Girum, “After starting our own farm all our problems have been resolved.”    

Health professionals also have concerns about the way the fast-food business is growing. Sanitation and health issues, such as obesity and high cholesterol, are big concerns for health professionals. 

“Some [restaurants] use the [same] frying oil repeatedly, this has serious health problems,” says Mehari Birhane, Food distribution director at Ethiopian Food, Medicine and Health Care Administration and Control Authority.

He also mentions that, as the name indicates, fast food is something that can be prepared quickly, so great care must be paid during preparation to ensure that proper hygiene is being maintained. 

Fostering productive business development could help move the Ethiopian economy into high-productivity equilibrium, according to a report by the African Development Bank. It’s clear that many restaurants have learned that fast food could be a profitable enterprise. Still, whether or not the development of fast food restaurants will be part of Ethiopia’s development potential remains to be seen.

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