It was almost 8:00pm when Melat Alemu was sitting out on the rooftop of the Effoi-Red building on Cape Verde Street, next to the European Union Delegation Office, having dinner with four of her friends.
Designed with up-to-the-minute restaurant trends and Instagram clientele in mind, Effoi-Red fits right in.
The place has a rustic look with white walls, wooden seats, potted plants outside on the patio and bright spherical light fixtures.
“It’s the simplicity of the place that keeps people coming back," said Melat. "I come here for a glass of wine and Aku-Koo-Lu pizza, my personal favourite.”
The rooftop has a large wraparound bar and communal seating area that buzzes pleasantly with the sounds of satisfied guests.
Tesga Woubishet, aka Gigi, 39, has been defying expectations for much of his life. A former geologist who had never waited on tables, he opened his first pizzeria, Effoi, in Chichinya in 2007. Today, the owner operates four pizzerias and one restaurant, none of which are strictly Italian.
The menu of Effoi is filled with creatively-named dishes - Chichinya, Zeway, Mercato, Effoi, Eskista, Aku-Koo-Lu, Diaspora, Wanza, Warka, Bissna, Entoto and Gigi (that last one in recognition of the owner). The names of the dishes reflect the owner’s Ethiopian roots.
Gigi also integrates traditional dishes into his menus, unlike many restaurants that specialise in foreign cuisines.
“The rationale behind opening another pizza house wasn’t just to recreate foreign dining trends," said Gigi, "but to create a mix of local and foreign dishes and establish a local brand."
When the first Effoi-Red opened in 2007 on Micky Leland Street with a total investment of 150,000 Br, it had four employees and 21 seats.
“When we started out, it was more like laying out the groundwork for the culture of the restaurant and creating a character for each meal using local ingredients,” said Gigi.
But soon after, the pizzeria moved to its current location in Atlas. In 2017 they started the hotel alongside the pizzeria business. Since inception, they have opened four other pizzeria locations and currently employ 220 employees with over two million dollars in annual turnover.
“We have come a long way from the time we started," said Gigi.
In February, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau chose to give his press conference on the rooftop of Effoi-Red as part of his visit to Ethiopia.
In selecting the venue, the Embassy of Canada wanted to find a place that reflected the new spirit of Addis. Effoi was placed on a shortlist along with several other places and was picked by the Prime Minister's team.
“Many people think it was because my wife is Canadian," Gigi added, smiling. “Well, it's the truth."
Effoi-Red receives the highest number of customers out of all of the brand's locations. This can be attributed to the large size of the building and its dual role as a hotel. Effoi-Red offers a total of 25 rooms on the three floors of the building.
“Our target customers are young professionals and technocrats going from place to place," he said. "And the ambience of the rooms are laid out in a manner that is comfortable for them."
Nearly a decade ago, Effoi-Green opened in Sarbet across the road from International Evangelical Church. Hidden behind walls of green climbing plants and filled with green potted plants, the restaurant lives up to its name. A beautiful painting of a wave of water covers the entirety of one wall.
This chain, with an extensive and varied menu, provides plenty to appease diners. Effoi-Green's diverse menu offers soup, sandwiches and salads alongside pizza.
“I was at the peak of my creativity when setting up this place,” said Gigi.
Addis Alemayehu, CEO of 251 Communications and a long time friend of Gigi, is impressed by his creativity.
“Gigi is someone who took the imagination, drive and lack of experience of a novice and turned it into an asset," said Addis.
Three years after Effoi-Green opened, a second branch was opened in Kazanchis called Effoi-Orange. Making clever use of a small space, the restaurant has a fun and funky look.
“Yes, it’s quite small, but it has a cosy and intimate vibe," Gigi said.
This location has outside investors who hold 50pc of the equity. Gigi controls the management and operation of the branch, while his partners help to plan his strategy and supply the necessary capital.
The last location, called Effoi-Indigo, is located around Ayat near Addis Abetta. It has a mix of everything on one floor, making it suitable for families.
There is a small bar and a patio outside with wooden benches. Simplicity is the key element of the design. Effoi-Indigo is supported by a local investor who owns a 65pc stake, while the remaining share is fully owned by Gigi.
For the last 11 years, the brand has been widening its reach through its pizzas. However, it has recently been opening restaurants with a variety of different styles.
Choma Grill, which opened last year, is the newest of these projects. It is a genre-bending restaurant that serves a mix of artfully composed plates of seasonal produce and meat roasted in wood-fired ovens. Choma is located on the road to Fitawrari Damtew Street near the African Union.
The open kitchen with wood-fired ovens and grills casts a warm glow over the entire scene, accentuating the rich colors of the wooden tables and chairs.
“Choma was born out of the necessity for vertical integration with the meat demand from all four branches," said Gigi, "so we decided to do our own butchery."
The menus range from rib-eye steak to barbecue-style ribs and kebabs. It also serves tela, a local alcoholic beverage, as indicated by the traditional can hanging on the front of the entrance.
“The success of the business didn’t happen overnight," Gigi said. "We had our biggest capital - our passion - which gave us a leg-up in the creative venture."
Several years ago Gigi had a branch in Mercato called Effoi-Violet with a delivery model concept, but it was not successful.
“We're still working hard to extend the reach of the local brand,” he said.
Effoi's long journey has just started, with the owner planning to open a total of 20 locations throughout the capital and other major cities.
“We have laid out a three-year strategy with the investors who are backing up our plans and future," he said.
Fisseha Asres, a hotel expert and managing director of Afro Hospitality Management & Support, says that providing excellent service is the best competitive edge a local brand can have and is often more important than the brand's product.
"Honing in on the target market and catering to that group would give a better leg-up to the local brands," said Fessiha.
He also believes that the locally branded service industry is untouched in the country and local brands should have the ambition to expand to other African countries through their ventures.
"Local brands have a competitive edge in the supply chain over international franchisees, which source some ingredients from abroad," he said.
PUBLISHED ON Mar 14,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1037]
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