Casablanca reopens today
Bermuda’s restaurant scene is slowly returning to its pre-pandemic splendour, but not without the weight of technical, logistical, health and financial obstacles.
Casablanca, in Washington Lane, officially reopens today after earlier attempts fell short. For one thing, there simply was not enough foot traffic.
Like many businessmen, Amre Elsayed has been gauging timing, movement and habits in a city that has undergone dramatic change.
Once time, money and other resources are committed, business owners and their capital are exposed. They must get it right.
“At one point we tried,” he recalled. “But Washington Lane was being tiled. So, there was no easy access to the restaurant for a few good weeks and, of course, there was the dust.
“Restrictions were still in place at that time too. And then there was another lockdown. There were food item shortages for suppliers. And no one knew where we were going with the pandemic.
“But now we can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
He echoes the concerns of others in the restaurant trade: "We were worried about the uncertainty of the market and the unknown future of Covid, which led to crippling restrictions."
Mr Elsayed has spent decades in the restaurant business and finally struck out on his own as a restaurateur six years ago. But things are so different from even four years ago, when he had three city takeout eateries up and running.
"I had to let go of the third restaurant," he said. "I couldn't take on three restaurants with the current situation."
City workers have gravitated to the menu, and it differs from the normal fare in Bermuda.
Named after the Moroccan city, Casablanca's traditional Middle Eastern favourites such as hummus and shawarma-cooked meats quickly became a local delight.
Mostly closed since the island's first pandemic lockdown, Mr Elsayed has now fully integrated the different menus into what can be offered from one location.
He told us: "Bowl 61 has been relocated to 18 Washington Lane (Casablanca) to save on expenses. We’re operating the different menus under one location."
Bowl 61, which featured various Asian dishes as a dine-in, takeout or delivery business was established in the summer of 2019. The noodle bowl concept, the authentically Asian food design, quickly developed a following, partly because of its affordability. Everything was $20 or less.
Globally, businesses have suffered from the altered, interrupted and still-changing supply chain. Many businesses have had problems importing items because of shortages and lack of variety, but also because of the instability of pricing.
Mr Elsayed said: "There have been rising operating costs, food suppliers not able to provide food items due to current shipping costs, limited item availability to them and shortages world wide.
"Absolutely it has been a problem," he said. "Food supplies for sure, especially if it is a special product for a specific menu. It could force a restaurant to say, 'Sorry, we are out of it'. This changes things for us.
"It's very challenging times for sure. If the necessary adjustments are not made its very difficult to operate profitably. For example, joining the two restaurants together was a must to address costs. There are food cost increases. We still have rent, taxes and utilities."
Mr Elsayed is anticipating hiring seven staff and is looking forward to the return of his clientele.
"Currently, we are serving Asian noodle and poke bowls, and with the opening of Casablanca, our famous lamb and chicken shawarmas, and kebabs as well. The Middle Eastern salads and buffet will be back too.“
He is optimistic that Casablanca is in a good place to resume serving Bermuda.
He said: "I must admit tough times makes you humble. Those things you took for granted before, now makes you think not twice, but ten times!
"Difficult times don't have an expiry date, and no one can predict when it will end, so one must be creative and think outside the box to adjust and face the new era of the unknown future and worldwide political unrest. All you can do is keep the faith and hope."