A growth in the number of the middle class has meant that businesses in Addis Abeba can risk huge investments and high prices. This has been exemplified by an increasing number of malls, supermarkets and fast-food outlets. The phenomenon is no different for restaurants, where Centre Point Addis revolving Restaurant, an expansion project by Intercontinental Addis Hotel, is one. Open only four hours a day, offering a buffet service, it has a trick up its sleeve- a panoramic view of the capital, writes CHRISTIAN TESFAYE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Abeselom Ayalew, in his early 20s, is an undergraduate, who does not seem to be bothered with a creaking floor. Sitting inside Centre Point Addis Revolving Restaurant, enjoying a panoramic view of Addis Abeba from the restaurant’s vantage point, thanks to a gimmick that allows part of it to revolve, he does not feel dizzy or uncomfortable with the service or food.
“I have nothing to complain about,” he exclaims, a sentiment his friends at the same table share.
At another table are members of his family, and he is not alone in this regard. On a Thursday night, most customers have come in groups – mostly parents with their children. But Martha Mandefro, the restaurant’s manager, insists this is an isolated incident.
“Today is unique; it is couples that usually dominate,” she adds when she finds the time from catering to diners on a busy night.
In a restaurant that can accommodate 120 people a night, Centre Point Addis currently gets about 100 customers on a good day, which is every day of the week except Monday and Wednesday. When the restaurant opened its doors a little over three months ago, it used to serve an average of a quarter that amount.
Located on Intercontinental Addis Hotel’s newest building, on the 13th floor, it is part of a 400 million Br expansion project by the hotel that took four years. Built nine years ago, the four-star hotel, founded by JH Simex Plc, also houses other restaurants under its umbrella, like Taitu and Warka eateries.
The most recent, Centre Point Addis, has the added edge of being able to rotate on its centre, hence its name. The concept in itself is not new, where it has been recorded that the Roman Emperor Nero had a rotating dining room in the palace of Domus Aurea, located in modern-day Rome, Italy, almost two millennia ago.
For Ethiopia it is the first, but not for Africa. The Revolving Restaurant in Cairo, Egypt, is one, while South Africa’s Top of the Ritz is another, just to name a few. For the world, the first ever revolving restaurant was believed to have been built on Ala Moana Hotel in the United States, according to a New York Times obituary published 26 years ago for John Graham, an architect who the paper honours as the creator of the restaurant.
The concept in itself is not new, where it has been recorded that the Roman Emperor Nero had a rotating dining room in the palace of Domus Aurea, located in modern-day Rome, Italy, almost two millennia ago.
The mechanism is much akin to a turntable. At the centre of the restaurant is a curved staircase that serves as an entryway. The kitchen, muted in activity compared to the dining area, is set outside the rotating platform of the restaurant, much like the sanitary facilities. Slowly, the protruded floor of the building rotates 360 degrees in almost an hour as the walls and a small area beyond the rotating platform stay stationary.
There are plenty of reasons for customers to notice such details as the restaurant invariably offers a buffet. Customers serve themselves in an all-you-can-eat arrangement for a set price of 760 Br, including a 10pc service charge and 15pc value-added tax (VAT). The choices are many and varied. Customers, who can reserve by phone or in person, or not at all, can choose from low-fat diet foods like salads and fruit items to seafood, chicken and chocolate cakes on the high-cholesterol category.
“Customers like the variety, especially that of our cakes,” attests Henok Demisse, executive sous-chef of the restaurant. “We have about 40 varieties of starters, to begin with.”
The buffet area is classified into four sections, where European dishes predominate but diners can also find Arabian and traditional Ethiopian cuisine. Each course is allotted its respective table, the main course is set after the starters before reaching the table that has been dubbed “life station”, and includes, but is not limited to, pasta, seafood or sauces. A final diner’s destination is the restaurant mainstay, dessert.
A customer that partakes in the full-course would thus have to make the trip from the buffet tables to their seating accommodations several times. This means there is less interaction with the waitresses unless a beverage has been ordered.
Nevertheless, Atenaf Getaneh, on his second visit to Centre Point Addis, which has a total of 11 employees, insists the best feature of the restaurant is its service.
“The food is good, and the price is reasonable, but service trumps them all,” he says after a trip for the main course.
The buffet area is classified into four sections, where European dishes predominate but diners can also find Arabian and traditional Ethiopian cuisine
There with his wife and children, he also finds the restaurant an excellent place for a family night out.
“Teenagers may not be crazy about the place, but it makes for a great family outing,” he says. “Even the background music is tasteful for such a group.”
The background music he discusses is a live orchestra, hired under a contract by Centre Point Addis. A trumpeter, pianist and a guitarist set on the farther side of the restaurant’s stationary platform play to audiences that come by their maximum earshot every 55 minutes.
Aside from the orchestra, the restaurant boasts the usual staff one can find at such an establishment, including waiters, a manager, chefs and hosts. Opening its doors at 6:30pm, it offers customers a buffet where food items change by the day before it closes at the relatively early hour of 10:30pm. The busiest hours are the two hours an hour from opening time.
“Business is good,” relates Martha when she finds the time between managing the staff and catering to the diners. “We spent the first-month marketing through word-of-mouth before diversifying into radio and TV.”
“We invited people from embassies and other organisations for free in the hope that word gets around,” she adds.
And word has gotten around, at least to the duo, including Martha Chernet, seated in the lower area of the dais of the rotating platform. They heard of the restaurant from friends and decided to give it a try.
“I mostly came for the revolving gimmick, it was new to me,” says Martha, who works as a nurse, but felt underwhelmed by the whole experience.
“It rotates so slowly that at some point you completely forget about it,” she explains seated by the window that encloses most of the circular restaurant. “Of course, a different view every other 10 or 15 minutes means that there is something new to talk about.”
Centre Point Addis, located in Kazanchis, within walking distance of star-rated hotels like Jupiter International and Radisson Blu, along Tito Street, is surrounded by bank branches and is in proximity to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
Atenaf, the businessman with his family, disagrees with Martha though.
“In every direction, there is the same view. It is the same types of houses and common types of silhouetted buildings. Perhaps, it would have been better had it been daytime,” disappointedly gesturing at the Ethiopian capital he wishes was more urbanised.
Meanwhile, Abeselom, stationed not far from the buffet, on the upper dais of the rotating platform, facing the centre point of the restaurant that once is an exit, then a large bar cabinet and finally just a wall, could not be happier.
“It does not just revolve, it offers a great view,” he says, unaffected by vibrations every time someone passes by the side of his seating area, which is a wooden floor covered in a brown rug.
Of course, Centre Point Addis, disappointing for some, underwhelming for others, and just plain superb for more is not only expected to revolve but help fetch Intercontinental Addis tourists.
And first quarter’s results indicate it is going to be a good year for those looking to benefit from the tourism sector. Although tourist numbers in the first quarter have started to show a decline since a couple of years, it has increased by almost 10pc this year, according to Tewabe Negash, public and international relations senior expert at the Ministry of Culture & Tourism (MoCT).
TripAdvisor, though, a website that provides information on travel destinations and restaurants, counts 234 restaurants in just Addis Abeba, where the user favourites are Yod Abyssinia Traditional Restaurant, 2000 Habesha Cultural Restaurant and Sishu.
Within such a market, the concept of rotating on one’s centre is in itself not enough, according to Yohanis G/Eyesus, one of the best-known chefs in the city and a TV personality.
“There is a great deal of research that goes into making a restaurant successful, starting from the physical surroundings to the target audience, which every restaurant worth its salt should conduct,” he contends, adding, “it is great that they are the first to come up with such a restaurant.”