Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The man who quits engineering to start Ethiopia Flavors

For a long time the deep fried scents of quick and greasy fast food have wafted through local food courts.

But the hold of fast food chains on the humble food court continues to loosen as independent restaurant owners move in from the suburbs to attract the big shopping crowds.

The owner of Ethiopia Flavours in Westfield Woden believes his is the first Ethiopian food court outlet in Australia.

Despite the small Ethiopian population in Canberra, Jonita Hagos said the big Ethiopian food presence here was credit to the changing tastes of Canberrans.

"Once they try, they keep coming, specifically telling their friends," he said.

Mr Hagos also owns the restaurant Ethiopia Down Under in Pearce. He quit his job as an engineer in construction seven months ago to start Ethiopia Flavours.

"Only similar food is available in the different malls, like Subway, McDonald's or Ali Baba, but we offer something new."

Westfield spokeswoman Anita Sulentic said the shopping centre giant encouraged independent restaurant owners to move into the food courts.

''We do love working with these retailers … we like to have very diverse options,'' she said.

Andy Le Flay, of the restaurant Indo Cafe Canberra and the Indo food court retailer in the Canberra Centre, said the food court had opened the family business to new customers.

''Ninety per cent of Indo Cafe customers are regulars … Only 20 per cent are regulars in the food court. That leaves 80 per cent of customers that have never tried Indonesian food or this type of cuisine,'' Mr Le Flay said.

Indo is one of the only non-franchise options in the Canberra Centre food court.

''We see the potential here, it's unusual to find Indonesian food in a food court.''

Owner of the Jewel of India restaurants and Spice India food court outlets in Belconnen and Woden, Venkatesh Ramachandran, said the dual restaurant and food court model had been successful.

Mr Ramachandran said Spice India was 10 years old and well established in the Belconnen food court.

"In terms of finance, I think it's mutual. In the restaurant you go through quiet patches … then we find the food courts go up," he said.

But life in the food court can be hard for an independent.

Chong Co Thai Express, also in Belconnen's food court, has struggled in comparison with its dine-in restaurants.

While his outlet allows customers to see their food prepared fresh in front of them, owner Thanandorn Pim-dee said the food court venture was running at a loss because of competition from fast food franchises.

"The food court is a different type of operation to the restaurant … even if it's the same meal or cheaper, customers don't want it," Mr Thanandorn said.