Fancy Tastes

Fancy Tastes High-End Restaurants Pickup

High-end restaurants serve foods in fancy, often luxurious dining areas. The ambiance and quality of the food, service and silverware mean that they charge higher prices. As the spending power of Ethiopians increases, so does their desire to eat quality foods. Such restaurants tend to do well even during times of recession. Despite the promising environment for high-end restaurants, managers say they face hurdles, including difficulties importing goods. EBR’s Fasika Tadesse spoke with restaurateurs to learn more about what is likely to be a growing trend in Ethiopia’s service sector.

Desta Yigremew, who lives in the United States, was visiting Ethiopia for the first time in 12 years. He was in Addis Ababa for three months to realise his plan of opening a resort in his birthplace of Debarqe, a town in the Semien Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region. On the afternoon of February 2, 2016, he was at Ristorante Castelli, located in the heart of Piasa, to have lunch with a friend.
The classy, aesthetically pleasing ambience of the restaurant was enjoyable for Desta, who says fancier restaurants seem to be a growing trend in Addis Ababa. “So far I’ve visited 4 to 5 [high-end] speciality restaurants in the city that serve good, quality international dishes,” he said.
Specialty restaurants, which often exclusively serve foreign cuisine, usually conform to high-end international standards. These businesses take great care to consider the aesthetics and ambience of the dining area, the quality of the food and service, and use fine materials to prepare and serve their food, which means prices tend to be higher than other establishments.
Desta’s observation about the proliferation of high-end dining is supported by data from the Ministry of Trade. During the past five years, a total of 53 business licenses were issued for ‘speciality restaurants’ in the capital, which tend to be high-end businesses that serve international cuisine.
Despite their growing numbers, these restaurants are still small compared to the plethora of eating establishments available in Addis Ababa. Currently there are 1,244 restaurants and 9,653 cafés (most of which also serve food) that are registered in the city, according to data from the Addis Ababa Trade Bureau.
The history of high-end restaurants in the capital dates back to the 1950s, when the Castelli family, who were involved in the catering business in Piedmont, Italy, opened Ristorante Castelli. The family was encouraged to open an Italian restaurant because there were many Italians who came to the country during the invasion and occupation in 1935, but stayed after the colonisation attempt failed in 1940, engaging in different business activities.
Ristorante Castelli, which is best known for its pasta dishes, opened in January 1957 in Piasa, a historic neighbourhood in Addis Ababa, and is renowned for its array of foods and wines that are common in the Italian culinary tradition. It operates with 25 workers, seven of whom are chefs. Almost all of its workers are Ethiopians, who prepare most of the cuisine.
Castelli has a price variation for its dishes that ranges from ETB80 to ETB300. The price of vegetables, desserts and starters are typically ETB80, whereas appetisers made with imported ingredients cost ETB300. Main dishes made with pasta, meats, and chicken range between ETB120 and ETB230.
The first-rate quality of the food has, for years, set Ristorante Castelli apart from many other restaurants in the capital. It has even garnered a following among tourists and celebrities. Well known individuals like Bob Geldof, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and high-ranking statesmen and dignitaries have all enjoyed the fine dining experience offered by this high-end restaurant. It’s even garnered a reputation in the tourism world. Lonely Planet, the wildly popular tourism resource, recommends those travelling to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa visit this restaurant for its unique dishes and refined quality.
But the manager says the restaurant’s popularity has grown among locals, as more Ethiopians are beginning to patronise the restaurant in search of fine cuisine. “When we opened the restaurant our main customers were Italians, but Ethiopians who love Italian food have become our major and loyal customers,” says Tiziana Castelli, a second generation owner and manager of the restaurant, who was born and raised in Ethiopia.
Other restaurant managers echo this sentiment. Evans Andambi, Food and Beverage Manager of Gusto Ristorante, another high-end restaurant in the city, supports Castelli’s claims, saying the number of local people who visit his restaurant is growing. “In addition to the international organisation and embassy workers and tourists coming to our restaurant, the flow of Ethiopians who seek quality food is increasing,” said Andambi.
Gusto, which means ‘taste’ in Italian, opened for service in December 2013. The restaurant, which is a sister company of Kaldi’s Coffee, is located on Churchill Avenue in the Tracon Tower. It operates with 50 workers, which includes one chef from Italy.
Castelli and Andambi’s claims regarding the growing number of Ethiopians that visit high-end restaurant likely stems, at least in part, from increased spending power due to the rapid economic growth in the country. According to data from the World Bank, the annual GDP per capita income of Ethiopians is improving each year. In 2002, the per capita income was USD112.24. That figure increased to USD565.16 in 2014, representing 500Pct growth in the span of roughly one decade, according to a report the Bank published last September.
The number of high net worth individuals has also increased exponentially. The Global Wealth Report 2014, published by Knight Frank, a consultancy group based in the UK and South Africa, states that in Ethiopia the number of millionaires measured in US dollars reached 2,700 as of September 2013. That represents a 108Pct increment when compared to the same figure six years prior, making Ethiopia the country with the fastest growth rate of millionaires in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report.
Research demonstrates that the more affluent a citizenry becomes, the market for luxury items, products and experiences increases as well.
Ethiopia is no exception: the increased spending power and interest in high-end cuisine has created a growing market for restaurateurs looking to provide a quality dining experience. The main reason that motivated the managers of Gusto to open was a desire to change the culture of hospitality in the capital, according to Andambi. “The owner was initiated to open Gusto because the trend of specialty [high-end] restaurants in the city was in its infancy and also to encourage and teach the existing restaurants [to provide] better quality services and standards,” he told EBR.
Gusto is best known for its lasagne, a variety of salads, juice, tender meats, and its cocktails and wines, which come from 10 countries. Pricing ranges depending on the type of food one orders: ETB120-180 for starters; ETB180-280 for pasta dishes; ETB250-550 for main dishes made from meat, chicken and fish; ETB180 to ETB350 for pizzas; and ETB100 to ETB120 for desserts.
Yet, it’s not just the increased spending power of Ethiopians that is contributing a rise in the number of high-end restaurants, tourism also plays a role. Restaurant managers say that this is especially evident during periods when the capital hosts large diplomatic meetings.
For instance, the end of January and early February witnessed a number of statesmen, dignitaries, and business people flood the capital to attend the African Union and the US-Africa Business summits. The major beneficiary of these events are stakeholders in the hospitality sector, including restaurants such as Gusto and Castelli, who were busy serving the attendants of the meetings. “Of our foreign customers, such as NGO and embassy workers, the number of tourists coming to our restaurants is increasing these days,” says Castelli.
These observations are backed by data from the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service, which issued a report regarding the South African restaurant industry. It notes that foreign and domestic tourists serve as a key, long-term demographic that benefits the service sector, especially restaurants, as tourists are often less likely to prepare their own food while traveling.
According to the study, the diversity of South Africa’s culinary offerings, which includes numerous high-end restaurants, “draws millions of tourists to the country,” who, in turn, pour a great deal of money into the economy: “foreign visitors spend approximately USD30 per day on food and beverage during their trip to South Africa, which represents about 20Pct of the total daily expenditure.”
Data from Statistics South Africa, the country’s official data collection agency, demonstrate that this model may prove a fruitful opportunity to gain foreign currency in countries like Ethiopia. According to their figures, despite a global economic downturn in 2014, the food and beverage industry grew by 11.5Pct from the previous year, contributing just over 8Pct to gross domestic product.
While South Africa’s food and tourism sectors are more developed than Ethiopia’s, the latter is slowly catching up. According to data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the number of tourists visiting the country is growing significantly. During 2011/12, the number of tourists was 596,341; three years later, the figure reached one million, a growth of roughly 67Pct.
Furthermore, a report from the International Congress and Convention Association shows that the number of international meetings, which brings numerous tourists to the country, is increasing. According to the report, during the 2000/01 fiscal year Ethiopia hosted only one international meeting, but that figure rose to nine in 2014/15, bringing more foreigners to the country for business and pleasure.
Restaurateurs are taking note of these dynamics and turning it into a business opportunity. The increased tourist flow and the restricted number of high-end restaurants to meet their demands attracted Yegremachew Gebre to open Vine Restaurant and Bar to provide a variety of foods and services with new innovations. The restaurant was opened in January 2015 in the Dembel City Centre, a luxury mall near the Olympia roundabout on Africa Avenue.
Vine, which has an interior ambiance of a greenhouse – a nod to the fact that it’s named after a wood-stemmed plant of the grape family – and is decorated with a number of natural plants and stones. The dining area has 11 tables and can accommodate 46 people at once and is currently operating with 20 workers, eight of whom are Ethiopian chefs. Vine is one of the sister companies run by same owner, including Dembel Doom restaurant, two vine cinemas, and a café.
“We have not reached our planned [operating capacity]. Our target is to serve, on average, 40 people in a day, but it’s taking us a long time to reach that, as we were not working on advertisement, preferring word-of-mouth information dissemination and giving priority for building consistent, good quality services,” says Yegremachew. “But very soon we will reach to our target by working on advertisement aggressively in the coming four months,” he said.
Well known for Italian and seafood dishes, Vine charges between ETB80-400 for most of its dishes, which include appetisers, sushi and desserts. In addition to the meals, the restaurant has a bar that serves wine from South Africa, Italy, and Chile, as well as locally produced brands.
Yegremachew says high-end dining comes at a cost for both the customer and the owners. “Quality items always cost money,” he says. “To serve quality and healthy meals, we import most of our ingredients, which makes our dishes pricey,” he adds.
To expand its consumer base, Vine utilises a unique service model: it has three dining options based on pricing and the income level of customers. High-end customers dine at Vine, middle-income customers are served at the Dembel Dome Restaurant and lower-income customers will get services at its café, all of which are located within Dembel City Centre.
In addition to lunch and dinner meals, Vine serves as a venue for different celebratory occasions, many of which cater to foreigners, and is often part of the high-end dining culture of other countries, including South Africa, according to the aforementioned USDA report.
However, despite the promises of the nascent high-end restaurant business in Addis Ababa, it also faces some challenges. Andambi of Gusto says the main hurdles confronting the sector are difficulties in accessing a consistent input supply and the calibre of human resources.
“We face challenges to get foreign currency to import ingredients and logistic problems while transporting our input, which always delay [our efforts],” he says. The difficulties in accessing materials, like food items, decorations, silverware and fine porcelain, and lighting fixtures can be detrimental for a restaurant that relies heavily on luxurious ambience and high-quality products for its branding purposes.
The other hurdle, a lack of reliable human resources, is also problematic for high-end restaurants that depend on quality service for their clientele. “It is obvious that there is no good hospitality training school in Ethiopia, so we also face a problem of getting well trained human resource so we are trying to cope with it by giving in-house training for our workers after getting people that have personal skills and are passionate for the job,” Andambi adds.
To that end, a number of local institutions are working to improve the quality of human resources to meet the demands of Ethiopia’s growing hospitality sector. This includes Lion Tourism and Hotel College, which offers specialised programmes: one in Food and Beverage Service and another in Food and Beverage Supervision. Hawassa University offers similar programmes and a number of restaurants and professional associations also work with local and international partners to help improve the quality of the hospitality sector’s workforce through service trainings.
Still, managers of local high-end restaurants say that they’re persevering these challenges and are doing their best to diversify their enterprises by providing more services to customers. For example, Vine provides live musical performances and is currently working on preparing playgrounds to satisfy and accommodate its customers, according to Yegremachew.
With an average of 200 customers per day, Gusto is also looking to open another branch near the AU headquarters to meet a surge in demand of its services. EBR


4th Year • February 16 2016 – March 15 2016 • No. 36

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