From Greek Mythology to Ethiopian Restaurant

Restaurants could generally be either cheap but unsatisfactory or satisfactory but expensive. Eros, on the other hand, offers the best of both worlds. It provides patrons and newbies alike with a heightened dining experience that does not weigh customer's pockets too much. With an interior design that cost almost 13 million Br and cuisines few could find unoriginal, it is the latest classiest addition to Addis Abeba's eateries, writes CHRISTIAN TESFAYE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER. 

Sara Lilay, 32, is a business owner who finds herself on the third floor of Rakan Business Centre where Eros Addis is located, along Cape Verde Street, next to the EU Delegation Office, two or three nights a week.

With a lighting system dominated by subdued red and blue, except for a brightly illuminated kitchen that never distorts the overall colour composition, the restaurant offers dozens of seats up for grabs every day. With a front desk reception, a transparent kitchen, a massive front door and sitting areas which in their design offer a touch of personal space, the restaurant’s interior is unique.

For Sara, who admires the interior design and the service of the restaurant, the meals are a tad better. She likes the smoked salmon salad and the steaks they serve.

She also likes the main dish of the house.

“The chicken-shiro-pasta is the best,” she testifies.

For Efrem Ogbaye, 35, owner and head chef of the Restaurant, it is his signature dish, a result of an endless experiment in food fusion. Efrem can be found scampering around. He does not just fix the meal but has to make the circuitous journey through his cosy restaurant to get the opinion of customers and to socialise.

“It’s intended to bring people from all walks of life together,” says Bizen Tekley, the restaurant’s Sudanese born, but American raised, general manager. “The restaurant is meant to create the ambience for romance.”

Indeed, the full name of the restaurant translates to ‘Love Addis’, according to Efrem and Bizen. The name Eros is Greek, and in ancient Greek mythology, it was the name given to the god of love.

"The restaurant is meant to create the ambience for romance." says Bizen Tekley, the restaurant's Sudanese born, but American raised, general manager.

The term is significant for Efrem whose journey to the capital of Ethiopia was a lengthy one. He was born in Eriteria but went for schooling to Sweden in 1990, where he would stay for 15 years.

“I lived in a foster home with my Swedish parents,” says Efrem. “I didn’t know much about Ethiopian food.”

The interest of experimenting with a fusion of traditional and European cuisines would come later. His preferred subject of study in higher schooling was Mathematics at Tensta Gymnasium in Stockholm, Sweden, which he left after about a year.

“I had already become interested in food,” adds Efrem.

He moved to Washington D.C, the United States, by the time the mid-2000s had arrived. There, he would make a name for himself after an acquaintance with blood relatives sparks in him an interest in traditional Ethiopian cuisine. While in the US, he worked in restaurants like Expo Restaurant. In the state of Virginia, he became better acquainted with the Ethiopian community by working at Injera Restaurant, thereby improving his Amharic proficiency.

By the time he had reached another Ethiopian establishment, Eyo Restaurant & Sports Bar, Efrem had come up with his now-famous combination of chicken, the Ethiopian dish Shiro and spaghetti.

Efrem’s talent with food brought him to the attention of friends that would bring him to Ethiopia and introduce him to Mohammed Hussien Ali Al-Amoudi, Ethio-Saudi tycoon, and board chairman of MIDROC Ethiopia.

After an interior design that took a year and 13 million Br to convert part of the building's floor into a restaurant, there was no grand opening, though.

“I had a hundred dollars in my pocket. I never intended to stay the five years I did,” says Efrem. “He asked me what my dream was and I told him about my plans.”

After getting the financing from Al-Amoudi, Eros saw its conception. The desire was to open an upscale restaurant, but one that is affordable and could accommodate the diaspora, non-natives, international diplomats as well as locals. The benchmarks were internationally known franchised establishments like Buddha-Bar or Zuma.

“Now the goal is to make the people that helped me get to this place proud,” adds Efrem.

With the help of a friend who is a business consultant -, Wossen Zewde -, Efrem and Bizen visited restaurants in countries such as the United Kingdom and Kenya. And on April 24, 2017, Eros was opened with a capital of 4.6 million Br on Rakan Business Centre, adjacent to the Europian Commission.

“We imported every material, including the ceramics on the floor, from places like China and Dubai,” corroborates Efrem. “I’m sure, in time, we would recover the cost.”

After an interior design that took a year and 13 million Br to convert part of the building’s floor into a restaurant, there was no grand opening, though.

“We wanted to build our business through word of mouth,” says Bizen justifying the decision.

During Eros’ first couple of weeks, around 25 people would come to visit the restaurant a day; but, this in time has grown to around 40. The busiest days are Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, while the most hectic hours are at night time between 7:00pm and 10:00pm. Although reservations are not necessary, most customers prefer to make them anyway, sometimes online, but mostly by phone.

Sara was at Eros on one Tuesday night, along with business partners that she frequents the restaurant with. Sitting not far away from the bar – a dim and glittery balcony stretching the significant portion of the room where it imposes itself – she chitchats with her friends in one of Eros’s appropriately arranged seats and elegant upholstery that offer the distinct feeling of privacy. The music coming comely out of the speakers does not bother her or any other of the customers. Although the young waiters do not check on customers all that often, or perhaps because of it, she finds that the restaurant puts her in a relaxed mood.

Efrem and Bizen run this place with the help of their 40 employees, including the chefs, waiters, steward, bartender and janitors. The four chefs in the kitchen are from an orphanage, trained and hired by Eros.

“It’s a great pleasure to be givers, the same way we have been given,” says Bizen.

Indeed, Eros is similarly equitable on its customers’ pockets. Although most of the ingredients are imported, like the meat which comes from South Africa, the most expensive meal one could order is lamb leg, among the four desserts, five starters and almost a dozen main dishes on its menu. The lamb leg is served all week round, takes nearly six hours to cook and can set one back around 500 Br.

The lowest price on the menu is the vegetable curry, which costs a little over 225 Br. With the recent devaluation of the Birr and the restaurant’s preference to import the food ingredients, prices may need adjusting though.

“We’ll see,” is all the remark Efrem was willing to give on this.

For one of the country’s most recognisable chef’s, Giordana Kebedom, owner of Giordana’s Kitchen, and host of the TV show with the same name, all other things are secondary.

“Some people look for service, atmosphere or price, but for me, a restaurant is meaningless without great food,” says Gordana. “The chair or the make of the cloth covers are pointless. A restaurant should offer food that is tasty, visually attractive and innovative.”

This does not seem to worry the owners of Eros, though, who carry the unique dish chicken-shiro-pasta. Aside from the obvious main ingredients its title itemises, the European and traditional meal includes garlic, cream, the local seasoning mix mitmita and, of course, like the work of any chef worth his salt, has a secret ingredient added to it.

“I’m not going to tell,” answers Efrem, when asked what that may be.



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