Tuesday 23 February 2010

One day a week restaurant

There are lots of restaurants out there that close for one or two days a week - family outfits that need to have a break. There are lots of folks out there who'd like to run a restaurant, but can't handle the fixed costs of starting up. Two Wellingtonians have found the perfect solution: the one-day-a-week restaurant.
A Thai restaurant owned by a Burmese woman is going Ethiopian.

Well, at least one night a week.

Dawit Demissie, a refugee from Ethiopia, takes over the Brooklyn restaurant every Monday night, serving his traditional cuisine.

The 31-year-old arrived in New Zealand in 2002 and hopes to open his own restaurant. Mr Demissie, who works as a taxi driver and studies English, has teamed with mentor Annie Coates who runs the Golden Lotus.

"She's very special," he said. "I don't have words to describe her . . . She's like my mum."

So on Mondays, the Thai restaurant features Ethiopian cuisine and decor.

Mr Demissie designed the menu, buys the ingredients and prepares the food and has family and friends helping out waiting tables.

"I'm very happy to show my traditional food. I'm not looking for the money. It's about introducing people to my food."

After two weeks, it had been a hit. "People are asking me, 'Why just one night? We want more than one night.' So we will see how it goes."

Mr Demissie met Mrs Coates through ChangeMakers Refugee Forum, where she is also a cross-cultural worker.

Mrs Coates, who moved to Wellington from Burma in the early 1980s with her Kiwi husband, said she was giving Mr Demissie a chance so one day he could open his own restaurant. "I'm just paving the path for him . . . I like to help refugees establish and achieve something."

The restaurant was normally closed on Mondays so, when he told of wanting to open his own ethnic restaurant Mrs Coates thought it was a perfect opportunity for him to learn the trade.
What a perfect solution and such a great story. Steve Whittington helpfully pointed me to the place; I went there last night. Excellent. It had what I think was the best hummus I've ever eaten. They were more than happy to serve the kitfo properly raw; very nice. And of course Ethiopean food made with Kiwi lamb was bliss-inducing. Very obviously a family-run affair. I was very glad to see the place doing a brisk trade.

I will henceforth try to plan any business trip to Wellington to fall on a Monday.

I wonder why we don't see more of this kind of solution. The host restauranteur would really need to be able to trust the folks running the one-day-a-week option, and they'd have to be comfortable that some of their irregular customers might get confused. Neither of those should be insurmountable though. Does anyone know of other places where this happens?

Over dinner, I told Matt Burgess that New Zealand needs to ease its immigration restrictions, and that if it only wants to ease them somewhat rather than across the board, it should put priority on immigration from countries whose cuisines are currently underrepresented in New Zealand. Top of the list would be Ethiopia, but also high on the list would be Afghanistan, all of South America, and other parts of North Africa. And sufficient numbers of folks from each community should be welcomed in so as to provide a cultural base for the restaurant to be able to continue without blanding things down to suit the modal Kiwi palate. Matt thought this absurd. I'll admit it's not as good as a general liberalization, but it certainly beats the status quo.

Update: One commenter at Marginal Revolution suggests a potential answer: regulations that can make it very difficult for different operators to share a kitchen.


  1. Great stuff!

    This is similar to what has been happening in the brewing world for the last 18 months... beer geeks making beer (part-time) at other people's breweries Yeastie Boys, 8 Wired, Golden Ticket.

    It's not contract brewing in the standard sense (think Epic and Bennett's in that regard) and, for now, it is closer to one day a month than one day a week.

    There's an article on this new 'trend' (written by Geoff Griggs) coming out soon at www.alimentary.co.nz.

    slainte mhath

  2. What a great idea. I've always wanted to open a restaurant and have built a lot of them as a contractor. I may have to pitch this to some owners I know. VERY cool!