Ethiopia: TOTO Tour Owner Dan Ware writes a letter to Ethiopian Culture and Tourism Ministry.
There is an open kitchen at the back where hungry workers can watch the food being prepared while they wait. Pastag’s specialty is the lasagna, with three different versions to choose from. Visiting the Restaurant before customers start to arrive, you will find the freshly-made specials sitting on the side ready for the day.
The menu itself is small but perfectly formed. Alongside the lasagna, pasta, and sides there are a selection of salads, of which the Insalata Formaggio (cheese salad) is a firm favorite. This is quite possibly because of the selection of genuine Italian cheese imported directly from Italy, which add authenticity to the taste of the dishes. Catering mainly for local office workers and ex-pats living in the area, a meal at Pastag is very reasonable with a main coming in at 150 Birr, a side between 30-50 Birr and a salad at 105 Birr.
Pastag’s dream is to one day own four or five restaurant chains in Addis; this aspiration brings us to the concept of a restaurant chain. Increasingly, as a country develops, foreign investment starts to appear in all areas of society and the impact of international chain restaurants changes the economy.
Of course, investment is essential, however, economic growth can only occur if the money remains in the country and benefits the local community. As large international chains move in, due to economies of scale and greater buying power, they can source products cheaply which means they can sell cheap and over time begin dominate the market. The inevitable result is that local businesses begin to fold as they can’t compete.
Starting a chain of restaurants is a logical consequence for a successful sole trader and, as such, the ‘home grown’ chains should be supported. These business owners are more deeply rooted in the society around them, and are likely to purchase ingredients and services from within the community as opposed to sourcing the majority of their products abroad. In this way, the investment stays within the local economy. One such local chain is Bella Pasta and Pizza.
Matias Beza started his business at home, cooking a variety of cuisines for people in his local area. The feedback on the Italian food was so positive that he decided to specialize, and opened his first Bella seven years ago. It was so successful that a second restaurant was opened in Bole four years later.
Speaking to the Bole manager, Melese, he explains that their USP is providing quality food at an affordable price; and everything apart from the spaghetti and penne pasta is locally sourced. The tagliatelle and sauces are homemade offsite and delivered to the restaurant each morning and then the food is cooked to order onsite.
Their aspiration is for people when they think of Italian food to think “Bella”, and their slogan is “When you are in Bella, you are family”. There is a welcoming atmosphere as soon as you walk in and the staff greets you in a friendly and courteous manner.
The decor is in the European style with pictures of Italian landmarks on the wall, and lunchtimes will find the place packed with locals of all ages, as well as the odd tourists. Chatting to a couple of students who attend the local Medical College, they say that they visit quite often for lunch as “The food is awesome!”
Every day there are different specials and their ‘Combo’ meals are popular. The Combo with Lasagna costs 166 Birr and their signature Bella sauce with pasta around 155 Birr. It appears that Bella have managed the balance of quality and affordability effectively as they will soon be opening a third restaurant.
So why do restaurant owners decide to open Italian restaurants and why are they so popular? It could be argued that Italian food is now firmly part of the culinary landscape, in Addis at least, illustrated by the sheer amount of successful outlets available. In a growing culture of eating out that is both affordable and enjoyable, it seems that a visit to a favorite Italian is now very much part of modern life.