For a long time, restaurants in Ethiopia have been offering a wide variety of stews to their customers. These days, the ‘less is more’ philosophy has taken root in cities like Addis Ababa, where some restaurants are specializing in shiro, while others offer a small handful of options to go with the traditional stew. 

Hiwot Shiro, a restaurant with two branches in the capital is one of the eateries that offer a single dish. Established three years ago by Hiwot Teame, 29, the restaurant delights its customers with shiro, a popular dish in Ethiopia. The restaurant was founded with an initial capital of ETB30,000. 

A few months after the opening of its first restaurant around Gurd Shola in Yeka District, Hiwot Shiro opened a second branch around Bambis in Kirkos District. “Currently, up to 200 customers visit both branches daily,” Ephrem Taeme, general manager of the second branch told EBR. “We sell shiro for ETB55.”

Motivated by the positive response and expansion of its customer base, Hiwot Shiro is now planning to grow even further. 

“We are going to expand to other parts of the country. We are even thinking of going international and establishing a restaurant in the United States,” says Ephrem. 

Even though it is impossible to trace the emergence and development of these specialty restaurants across the country, the experiences of Hiwot Shiro and many others indicate that the trend is on the rise. In fact, it is common to see shiro restaurants in every corner of the capital. 

A restaurant founded by Zeray Kidane, 30, around Bole Medhanealem in Bole District also serves shiro to roughly 200 customers daily. Zeray opened the restaurant with ETB200,000 two years ago. “I started this restaurant believing that it would have a high profit margin,” Zeray recalls. “It turns out, I was correct.”

Nowadays, it is common to see such restaurants full of people especially at peak hours, when it’s often hard to get seats. 

Restaurants like Selam Shiro have managed to open as many as eight branches in the capital while Shiro joints such as Tsige and Azemera Shiro have become very successful in terms of popularity. These traditional eateries are known for their long lines. 

Although it is easy to notice the rise of single dish restaurants across the capital, finding out the driving factors is a complicated task. Tadele Ferede (PhD), assistant professor of economics at Addis Ababa University, argues that the increased spending power of consumers is feeding the industry’s response. “When disposable income increases, shifts in dietary patterns occur. The rate at which such places are opening up shows high consumer demand,” he says.

According to the World Bank, Ethiopia’s economy experienced strong, broad-based growth averaging 10.5Pct annually from 2005/06 to 2015/16, compared to a regional average of 5.4Pct. The expansion of the service and agriculture sectors accounted for most of the growth. As a result, the per capita income increased by a whopping 73.8Pct from USD293.9 in 2009 to USD511 in 2016, according to the World Bank. This led to the expansion of the middle and upper class in urban areas such as Addis Ababa. For instance, according to a study conducted by Sagaci Research in 2012 with sample size of 1,000 households in the capital, 24Pct were found to have a monthly income of higher than USD 500 while 10Pct of households earn more than USD 1,000 per month. 

Tadele argues that the increase in disposable income, urbanization, and the expanding population of Addis Ababa, explain the surge in the number of restaurants serving a single dish. “Because of these trends, which are expected to continue, the industry is likely to become more vibrant.”

According to an article published in Nutrients by Sarah J. Hardcastle (researcher at Curtin University in Australia) entitled Food Choice and Nutrition: A Social Psychological Perspective, those with high incomes prefer a higher quality diet. Since restaurants that offer a single dish are better suited to prepare food that is of greater quality, they are able to attract a lot of customers. 

Ephrem underscores that the reason behind the success of these restaurants lies in the quality and taste of food they serve. “The food must taste really good, because that is essentially what people are coming for,” he stresses. “To make this happen, we prepare all the ingredients for the shiro ourselves.”

Henok Aschalew, 26, Production Manager at Fisseha Film Production, is a regular customer of Hiwot Shiro. “I prefer to eat here rather than in other restaurants because they give special attention while preparing the ingredients for the shiro. The chefs in this restaurant are experts in the food they cook.” 

Shiro is an essential part of Ethiopian cuisine; it is a favourite especially during fasting season. Since fasting is practiced quite often by a significant portion of the population, it can be considered one of the driving forces of the growing popularity of restaurants serving just shiro. 

According to Tadele, because such eateries require a relatively small amount of start-up capital, they are suitable ventures for entrepreneurs. “In addition, there is no need for elevated technology; this is another major pull-factor.” 

Yet, many studies indicate that other than income, numerous factors influence food choices,. These can be a driving force behind the popularity of such restaurants. For instance, according to the study entitled Factors Influencing Food Choices in Humans conducted by Austrian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, food choice doesn’t simply boil down to level of income. Rather, variables such as physiological factors and food characteristics, as well as environmental and psychological circumstances, determine the choices we make. 

For instance, health concerns can influence food selection. And chickpeas, which are the main ingredient in shiro wot, only contain six grams of fat per 100 grams.

Almaz Gizaw, 45, an accountant working in private company, is a regular customer of restaurants that serve shiro. “Since my health is fragile, I usually eat foods with low fat content,” she told EBR. “In fact, if it was not for the price, I would go to these restaurants more often.”

For the moment, many restaurants serving shiro have stuck to the one-dish model with incredible success. However, putting all their eggs in one basket is not without its pitfalls. Offering only one dish requires mastery, and it requires this quality to be strictly maintained. If it’s not up to scratch, the focus on one dish alone dish could spell the end of the business. 

6th Year . February 16  - March 15 2018 . No.58

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