* Local entrepreneurs seize opportunity to set up
* Growing middle class spurs demand for Western food
* For many though, local cuisine trumps burgers
By Matthew Mpoke Bigg
ACCRA, Jan 16 As the boss of one of Ghana's
busiest restaurants, Afua Asante has a lot on her plate, from
managing a team of 40 to ensuring each dish is cooked just so.
This week she has an extra headache: her palm wine supplier may
be trying to cheat her.
Asante sources the wine from the town of Adawso in eastern
Ghana, several hours drive from Accra, but it ferments quickly
and the customers who order it by the calabash will not take
kindly to wine that's not fresh.
Asante, 50, is one of a new breed of restaurant owners in
Ghana's capital, serving a middle class that is expanding
despite economic problems that have led the government to seek
help from the International Monetary Fund.
The economy is worth $37.5 billion, too small for the likes
of McDonald's, leaving a niche for African restaurateurs
such as Asante, who grew up in a village in eastern Ghana, to
set up shop.
Most of the restaurants target business travellers,
expatriates and tourists but the sweet spot is Africa's middle
class and serving 'aspirational' Western food such as burgers or
European dishes. Asante's success is built on offering an
"My secret is that there are so many foods that people used
to eat in the village and they can't get now," Asante said.
She opened Azmera restaurant in Accra six years ago,
offering a 66 cedi ($20) buffet menu featuring staples such as
fufu, made from pounded cassava and plantain, and banku, made
from fermented maize and cassava.
It also serves specialities such as palm wine and cocoyams,
less common in restaurants than the ubiquitous yams. Other
dishes include green soup with snails, crab, smoked fish and
Most lunchtimes, Azmera - a name chosen by Asante's daughter
- is full with business people, its main clientele. But running
the place is a challenge and Asante has to solve most problems
such as the dodgy palm wine herself.
"I told them that I will be there myself to taste it. If
it's not fresh, I won't buy," she said.
"FORGET THE BLIP"
Sub-Saharan Africa spends more on food as a percentage of
its income than any other region of the world yet its restaurant
sector - South Africa aside - is smaller than elsewhere, said
industry expert Aaron Allen.
But Africa's middle class is expanding with 128 million
households expected to be on an annual income of $5,000 or more
in 2020, up from just 85 million in 2008, according to a report
by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
As economic growth increases household incomes, eating out
should take off over the next decade, Allen said.
In many countries, fast food outlets often lead that change
but with the exception of South African company Nando's and KFC,
owned by Yum Brands Inc, few big chains have opened
beyond South Africa.
"It's very difficult for them to figure out local supply
chains and hiring and government regulations," Allen said,
adding that scale can be a disadvantage in a small market.
African entrepreneurs are seizing the opportunity instead.
Eric Andoh, who lived in Britain for years, returned to
Ghana a few years ago. He hoped to invest in the construction
and real estate sectors before deciding to set up Starbites
restaurant offering a menu of things he liked to eat:
sandwiches, burgers, pizza and African food.
The business boomed and he now has three outlets in Accra
with plans to open more in the capital's metropolitan area.
On one recent weekday, a couple of local celebrities were
spotted at a Starbites outdoor cafe in the upmarket East Legon
"We had to educate some of the customers because they don't
know what Caesar salad or penne cream pasta are," Andoh said.
Running a restaurant is high stress anywhere but owners said
it is tougher in Ghana due to irregular power supplies,
corruption at the port that raises the cost of imports and staff
who fail to grasp the ethics of good service.
Often it demands innovation and Asante said she bought cell
phones for her suppliers out in villages so they could keep her
up to date about the best, cheapest cassava, palm wine or goat
But most said the rewards outweighed the risks.
Richard Laryea opened Tante Marie restaurant in an Accra
suburb to serve high-quality traditional African food from Ghana
and Ivory Coast such as grilled tilapia and jollof rice to
locals and tourists.
He now has two other outlets in shopping malls in the city
and only the high cost of finance has stopped the business
growing further, he said.
Nabil Moukarzel, who runs consumer goods company Finatrade
Group, started casual dining restaurant Yard Bird last year. He
plans to set up more branches in Ghana and then take the
franchise elsewhere in Africa. He is undeterred by the economic
"Forget the blip. These two years are difficult but long
term the hospitality business will grow," he said.
(Editing by Susan Fenton)