One thing is for sure. Dodi Restaurant, which just opened 2 weeks ago does not lack customers. With its flashy signboard featuring Dodi’s logo, a stout jovial chef with ruddy cheeks, a puffed up chest and an outstretched hand proudly presenting the restaurant, it opened its French doors for business on Friday, July 29, 2011. Whether it was the curiosity that a new spot holds for many, or the pull of bright lights and bold-coloured billboard of orange and red, reminiscent of fast food places like McDonalds and KFC elsewhere in the world, diners were flocking to the restaurant this past week, ready to sample what it offered.
Located near Desalegn Hotel No 1, across the European Union office, where Yod Abyssinia cultural restaurant used to be, the Addis Abeba branch of the restaurant is the sixth one under the Dodi trademark, the other five being in Khartoum, Sudan, and a seventh one ready to start business within three months in Cairo, Egypt.
Chain restaurants are few in Addis and imports from other countries even more rare. With Dodi expanding its base to Cairo, it could possibly be the first regional chain opened here in the capital. Solomon Tilahun, a 30 year old businessman, enjoying a night out with his friend at the restaurant, thinks that if successful Dodi would be a good start in Ethiopia. He likens Dodi to some chain restaurants in Dubai where he had previously spent some time.
Mumin Osman, general manager of the Addis Abeba branch, who co-owns the restaurants with his cousin, Khalid Elfatih Sheik, says he chose Ethiopia for his first venture outside of Khartoum because he found the traditions familiar.
“I first came to Ethiopia in 2003. I liked the country and the Ethiopian people. The culture and hospitality of this place is similar to that of Sudan,” he explained.
Osman says preparations to open the restaurant took about a year. Surprisingly, the convenient location, on Cape Verde Street, where there are other restaurants nearby offering ethnic cuisine, was not difficult to find.
“I was very lucky. I found the place in five days,” Osman says. Dodi opened only during evenings last week, but that was only until it got its feet on the ground. Soon the place would begin service at 10:00am in the morning and stay open till 2:00am.
In contrast to the bold colours featured on the signboard, the design is more muted indoors. Earth tones are reflected in the PVC and wood panelling, ceramic wall veneer and tiled floors. Neutral colour palettes like beige, tan, grey and brown add a classier feel to the venue. Over a hundred small light fixtures adorn the ceiling, creating a well-lit cosy atmosphere. Osman explains that he planned the interior design himself, trying to make it resemble the other restaurants in Khartoum as much as possible.
The menu is an eclectic mix both in food selection and price. It features Arabian cuisine like chicken kabsa, beef shewarma, lamb mandi, shish kabab and also includes other main dishes and more conventional fast food meals like pizza and sandwiches as alternatives. The main dishes veer towards the expensive side, with the whole grilled chicken leading the pack at 150 Br. The mix grilled barbecue is worth its price, featuring chicken, kofta (meat balls), lamb and beef. Delectable and easy to chew, with a hot sauce dip providing spicy flavour, it can please meat lovers everywhere.
The muttabal salad, common in Middle Eastern countries, is a nice side dish with a mild balsamic flavour and the tahina, a paste of ground sesame seeds, which provides extra zest.
There are currently four chefs employed in the restaurant. Two are Ethiopian, and the rest Sudanese. Osman explains that he brought some of the Ethiopian staff from Sudan because they can speak the local language and business here will go smoother. Newly hired chefs undergo training while on the job. Osman himself spends time in the kitchen, overseeing food preparations in order to ensure that the food quality of the new branch keeps up with the other Dodi restaurants.
Osman says he started the food business after he finished University.
“I learned everything I know about food processing from my uncle, Elfatih Sheik, who owned a meat processing factory. He is the one who inspired me to open the Dodi restaurants,” said Osman.
Osman is satisfied with how business is going so far, and if things go well, he says he will be glad to expand the business here in Addis.
The price of pizza and sandwiches is relatively fair when compared with other restaurants in the capital. The priciest selection is the large Chicken Mushroom Pizza that costs 110 Br. The Hotdog Pizza, with thin crust and loads of cheese has a juicy mouth-watering taste. Make sure to order the large or medium if you have company though, as the small size can only serve one diner.
The menu offers both hot and cold beverages, but no alcoholic beverages are served at Dodi. The juice selection is fantastic, and the mashkal, a smoothie like blend of pineapple, papaya, mango and apple mixed with milk is guaranteed to satisfy the sweet tooth with its rich saccharine taste. Solomon, the businessman had a complaint about the narrow selection of cold drinks because only Pepsi drinks are on offer at the restaurant inconveniencing others who may want Sprite, Fanta or Coke light.
Osman promises that he is working hard to provide these things.
Even within this short time, there is a consensus among diners that the taste of the food is up to par. One customer waiting for her takeaway order explained that she came to Dodi because she heard that the food was good.
Yekaalo Yohannes, a 12-year-old boy, who came with his parents and his little brother at the restaurant, is already a return customer to Dodi and says he came back because he likes the Margarita Pizza. His parents first visited Dodi because the bright sign post outside gave them the impression that the restaurant was kid-friendly. Yekaalo gives an enthusiastic thumbs up for the food, but said service was too slow and that there was a shortage of utensils and silverware.
Indeed, the place lacks organised service, perhaps excusable because it just opened, but this needs to improve if it is to enjoy the current popularity it seems to hold. There are nine waiters in total, all friendly and helpful, some of whom speak Arabic and English, but the restaurant is understaffed. This problem becomes glaring especially during peak hours between 7:30pm and 9:00pm. During this time, orders might take 25 to 30 minutes to arrive. Osman seems to understand this problem, and says that he is looking to hire more people once the restaurant begins to operate full time.
The restaurant is spacious. There is a large open patio where diners can enjoy a meal outside in drier weather. Bamboo chairs scattered on the terrace and a dark cherry red tent create a casual atmosphere. A special section is provided for diners who come with a large entourage, or others looking for a more private corner.
In case of a power outage, customers do not have to be inconvenienced as there is a generator to provide lights. The bathroom facilities are clean, with separate toilets for men and women. The washroom has a bar of soap and liquid sanitiser. Towels are not provided but there is an air-drier that will make do.
So far, Dodi pulls in customers from all walks of life, whether it be locals, foreigners large families or young crowds wanting to try out this new place. If indeed Osman attends to the finishing details of the restaurant, manages to provide organised and timely service, and gets things in full swing like he promises, Dodi is sure to remain popular even after the novelty wears off, because so far, the food is a rave!