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Updated: September 5, 2022 shop talk

Q&A: Bringing fast-casual African food to the masses

Photo | Courtesy of Emmanuel Larbi Emmanuel Larbi, owner and CEO of Akra Eatery
Emmanuel Larbi
  • Title: Owner & CEO
  • Company: Akra Eatery, in Worcester
  • Founded: Oct. 2019
  • Opened: June 18, 2020
  • Original restaurant: Accra Girls, in Worcester
  • Employees: 8
  • Larbi's age: 29
  • Birthplace: Ghana
  • Residence: Worcester
  • Education: Bachelor's degree in biology from Assumption University, in Worcester

More Information

After operating Accra Girls restaurant on Worcester’s Grafton Street with his family, Emmanuel Larbi branched out to a second location: Akra Eatery in the Worcester Public Market. The new restaurant, opened in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, is part of his long-term plan to bring the food of his native Ghana into mainstream American cuisine.

How’s everything been going at Akra?

It’s been going. We all understand where we are, which is still in some sort of pandemic. This is the new normal, and we are all adjusting the best way we know how.

The first wave was the pandemic, and that was just trying to figure out how to serve people when they couldn’t be together, so we had takeout and other options. The second wave is the current labor and the staff issues. My title may be CEO, but really my title is anything we need it to be right now: cook, janitor, server, anything.

We’ve had supply chain issues, getting products and materials. The price of food has gone up, and it’s a question of how customers are going to respond to that. We’ve been fortunate to have a core group of customers who have really come together to support what we do.

We’re definitely grateful for what we have, but it has been a challenge.

You had mentioned before our interview you wanted to start franchising Akra. Why is that a goal?

This whole concept really stems from our first restaurant, Accra Girls, where you can get a traditional Ghanian meal. Akra is more of a fusion and fast-casual model. This is the more scalable product.

The Worcester Public Market was sort of our proof of concept that people would seek out this type of food. For the last two years, we’ve just been collecting data, to see how people respond to the food. It took awhile to educate customers on what jollof is and some of the other items on the menu, as well as the spices we use in everything.

We’ve definitely had people come from Boston and Providence, because this is not a food you can get everywhere.

We wanted to diversify what food looks like and how food is viewed, particularly African food.

How are the expansion plans coming along?

We are trying to grow a team. The plan hasn't changed, but we’ve pivoted to figure out a way to innovate to get where we want to be. I’m looking for angel investors and other investors who can help us get to where we want to be.

Initially, we’re looking at ghost kitchens, pop-ups, and possibly other locations in Worcester. I personally have looked at 10 locations in Worcester for an expansion and haven't found the perfect location just yet. We want to have a larger footprint than what we have at the public market.

Our Worcester Public Market location is going to stay as the flagship, but we are still looking to do more in Worcester with another location.

In your most optimistic outlook, where do you see Akra in 10 years?

We might be staring down a possible recession, but I’m still an optimistic person and see good things for us in the future. In 10 years, we hopefully will have two Akra locations in Worcester, one in Boston, and maybe a few more in places like Washington, D.C.

I look at restaurants like sweetgreen, which created a market for fast-casual salad. No one has really seen an African fast-casual restaurant, and I want to create the market for that.

What have you learned from customer feedback at the Worcester Public Market?

We’ve served 10,000 bowls in the last two years, and we’ve gotten almost exclusively great feedback. The public has really enjoyed the flavors. Customers love the stylized aspect, where they can design their own bowls.

We are still revamping the spice tolerance. African food is much more spice-heavy, but we’ve noticed we have to take a little bit off of that for Akra. This is new to the American public and new to their palette.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by Brad Kane, WBJ editor.

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