As warm weather fades – but the coronavirus lingers – some eateries are changing their menus and tactics, including the relatively new Eat Zawadi.
The restaurant, which opened in late spring in the Smiley Building and the plaza at Fifth Street and East Eighth Avenue, has faced a bit of adversity, closing briefly earlier this month after several members of its staff were exposed to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. But overall, business is good, said Chef Arnold Safari Ngumbao.
Safari initially thought opening a restaurant during hard times and establishing a market for his food would be challenging, he said. But after realizing his cuisine stands alone – there are no other African restaurants anywhere nearby – he said it wasn’t that big of a deal. Even sourcing special ingredients has presented little difficulty.
Because of this, and the changing seasons, he’s altering his menu and providing more services.
The winter menu will feature “really solid food that will keep people warm,” he said, and have an increased and richer range of spices.
One addition is ugali, a starchy, corn-based food similar to polenta. Safari plans to serve it alongside several goat stews he’s also putting on the menu. The new dishes will be a “game-changer” for people staying home and out of the cold because his food is not just hearty and but also spicy and flavorful in a way people may not have experienced before.
The eatery has found a great deal of success in simply adding an Afrian touch to familiar items such as salads or taking some of the restaurant’s existing menu items, such as the chicken tajin and tofu, and putting it in a wrap. Safari is also looking to expanding into serving breakfast, he said.
“It’s all an idea of trying to see what you have. How can you introduce it in the American way people are used to?” he said.
Safari said that to his chagrin, his cooks have given him a nickname, “the Wizard of Spice.”
“It’s not a complicated cuisine,” he said of the pan-African food he prepares. “Everybody can learn it. It’s just to learning the basics – spices and their uses.”
Another way Eat Zawadi is adapting is by opening itself up for catering. Safari said many of the local caterers he knows are retiring, making it a good time to get into the business. He has crated two menus – an African one and an International one – that he can bring to formal parties, weddings and the like. Both are available at eatzawadi.com/catering.
Eat Zawadi is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday to Friday at the Smiley Cafe and 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday at the East Eighth Avenue location.