People from around the world eat in the room with colorful walls.
One traveled from Delaware. Another heard about it in Mali.
Ambassadors have come to celebrate. Returned Peace Corps volunteers crave the tastes that bring back memories. American neighbors seek something new. Senegalese neighbors want a taste of home.
They all come to Chez Dior, a Hyattsville restaurant created by Mamadou Fall and Bineta Seck, which has offered Senegalese cuisine to a loyal and diverse customer base since it opened in May of 2014.
With TVs streaming Senegalese and American stations, tapestries celebrating President Barack Obama’s inauguration and the warm spirit of Fall and his family, it almost feels like a living room.
The menu includes dishes typical of Senegalese cuisine, which Fall describes as “unique.”
Meats and seafood cooked and spiced to Senegalese tradition are accompanied by sides like couscous, plantains or greens. Meals from other countries, such as the Cameroonian ndole and Ivory Coast’s attieke are also available so even more customers can have a taste of home, Fall said.
“The ingredients we use, most of them, they come from Senegal,” he said. “So it’s tough for somebody else to cook Senegal’s food if you’re not very familiar.”
Fall, who emigrated from Senegal 18 years ago, is not new to the business world; he worked as a specialty manager at Home Depot for seven years. Neither is Seck. She has been running a salon since 2004 and also managed a restaurant in Dakar, Senegal, Fall said.
Fall and Seck began a small food service from their home in 2008. Friends would come pick up meals or the service would deliver. It ended in 2010 when the cook had to go home, Fall said.
Fall left Home Depot in 2012 ready for a change of pace and began saving up to start a new business.
Before Chez Dior, Baltimore had the only Senegalese restaurant in all of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, Fall said.
“One restaurant cannot serve all the Senegalese, you know, so we decided we would open the restaurant,” he said.
A few Washington Post write-ups and many satisfied customers later, you might have to make a reservation if you want to dine in on a weekend.
“Passion and enthusiasm are great starters, but a very realistic view of the business opportunity is critical for long-term growth,” Oliver Schlake, clinical professor at this university’s Smith School of Business, said. “Restaurants are notoriously difficult to operate.”
The positive Yelp reviews and two consecutive years on The Washington Post’s top 10 cheap eats list certainly help, but in speaking to Fall, it is clear he does a lot to make Chez Dior what it is. He is there nearly every day it is open, greeting customers with an enthusiastic welcome. Profits from the salon help him and Seck buy food for the restaurant. The business caters events held by organizations ranging from universities to the state department, Fall said.
He estimates 70 percent of his patrons are returning customers.
“‘Oh, we’re definitely gonna come back’ – we always hear that,” he said. “‘We’re definitely gonna come back.’ And they’re coming back.”
Rebecca Williamson had lunch at the restaurant with her son Monday afternoon, a quieter time for Chez Dior. A newbie to Senegalese cuisine, Williamson left delighted and wishing there was one in her Takoma Park neighborhood.
“The accra, which is the black-eyed pea ground up, was delicious,” she said. “The plantain was fried and crispy and the best I’ve ever had actually.”
True to Fall’s word, Williamson said she’ll “definitely” come back.
Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Chez Dior Resto on Facebook.
Teri West is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.