Times have been tough for the restaurant industry since the drop in the price of oil, but that didn’t stop Abdi Dualie, owner of Mareeg Cafe, from opening a second restaurant five months ago. Samosa House, located just across the street from Mareeg on 118 Avenue, is run by Dualie’s wife, Pmaman. Though Samosa House has been a work in progress for over two years, things came together for the opening at a challenging time. Instead of waiting for a more convenient moment, the Dualies saw an opportunity to take a surprising and proactive approach during Alberta’s current economic climate.
When Dualie opened Mareeg Cafe in 2009, he worked 18-hour days.
“I’d open at nine in the morning, close at 11, go to work, finish at three o’clock,” he says. “I did that for the first 20 months.”
These days, his schedule is not quite so hectic, though he still juggles the roles of owner, manager and cook.
Dualie, who is originally from Somalia, specializes in traditional East African dishes at Mareeg: goat, beef, camel, rice, homemade breads and spaghetti, all served on huge, colourful platters and always accompanied by a fresh banana.
“In Somalia, the north was colonized by the British,” he explains. “And the south, where I come from, was colonized by the Italians, so that’s where the pasta comes from.”
As for the banana, it’s not only a perfect complement to the spicier dishes, it’s also a Somalian staple and eaten like bread to bulk up a meal.
After Dualie’s first restaurant closed and he entered the planning stages for Mareeg, he hunted specifically for a storefront on Alberta Avenue—and it’s clear that the restaurant has become a fixture in the community. Walking into the large open dining room at Mareeg, you’ll find couples chatting at tables by the streetside window and groups of men gathered to watch baseball over lunch. Dualie says that with the revitalization efforts on the avenue, he’s seen a more diverse clientele and spikes in business during festivals like Kaleido and Deep Freeze.
During the past six months, however, business has slowed down. In his position, most business owners would batten down the hatches, tighten their belts and prepare to weather the storm. Instead, Dualie and his wife decided to open Samosa House. The space had been empty for two years and eight months while Dualie tried to secure the permits to open another café.
To hear Dualie tell it, this past November just happened to be when the paperwork finally went through, but Pmaman says that they opened Samosa House “to create new jobs, live a better life.” Like her husband, she is personally involved in running the business, doubling as manager and cook.
The new restaurant, which currently employs five people, also serves East African cuisine, though at Samosa House it’s mostly desserts and small dishes: milkshakes, ambulo (a Somalian dish made with corn and adzuki beans), sponge cake, cheesecake and, of course, samosas. The bright blue booths inside are visible from the street at night—Samosa House is open until midnight, one of the only businesses on 118 Avenue that stays open late.
Like Mareeg, Samosa House’s clientele is as varied as the area’s population.
“They all love our samosas,” Pmanan says.
That’s in spite of the fact that the East African samosas she serves, which contain halal meat, are different from the vegetarian Indian samosas for which they are often confused.
“[Indians] think they invented them,” she says with a laugh. “We think we invented them.”
Ultimately, Pmanan’s not concerned about which one is right, so long as both her staff and her customers are happy.
“I’m working for people,” she says. “First, help everybody; then they will come.”
9420 – 118 Avenue
9405 – 118 Avenue