Pizza vs injera: Selling Italian food in Ethiopia

When he returned to Ethiopia after studying abroad, award-winning pizza chef Cristian Dell’ Edera struggled to find a good pizza restaurant in Addis Ababa. So he started his own Italian-themed pizzeria 18 months ago. “I wanted to give Ethiopians real Italian pizza,” says Dell’ Edera.

Cristian Dell’Edera

Cristian Dell’ Edera

But selling pizza in a country where traditional foods are very popular is no easy task. Ethiopian dishes comprising injera (a spongy pancake-like flatbread that doubles as cutlery) and spicy meat and legume-based stews are hugely popular across all age groups and social classes.

“The big challenge here is not a battle with other pizzerias. Injera is still the number one food here,” he explains.

At Cris’s Pizza patrons can enjoy pizzas and pastas with cheese and ham imported from Italy. It mostly attracts “people who don’t argue about the price” drawn from the city’s emerging middle class and elite. Large pizzas sell for between US$7 and $12.

“Our goal is not to attract high-income clients only. We want all people to be able to eat here so we have low-priced foods from 20 Birr ($1). We offer, for instance, a mini-sliced pizza the size of a book which sells for around 50 Birr ($2.50) and comes with a drink. It is especially popular among students. We have made sure that if you find any one pizza expensive, you will still have a choice of something else,” he says.

Fasting seasons

The chef also had to adjust his menu to fit Ethiopia’s social-cultural realities. Orthodox Christians account for a large percentage of Ethiopia’s 94 million population and they observe long fasting seasons. While fasting, they do not consume animal products like cheese and milk. As a result, during these times his restaurant receives fewer clients.

“So we have created a ‘fasting pizza’ made with the same ingredients but without any dairy products such as cheese. We have created ‘fasting ravioli’ and ‘fasting desserts’ which have neither egg or milk products,” he says.

The pizzeria has also employed smart marketing techniques. It has partnered with a nearby frozen yogurt outlet, called Yogurt-Inn, to attract customers, since both businesses target the same clientele. Through the arrangement consumers at Cris’s Pizza get a stamp on a coupon for each purchase which in turn allows them to get discounted or free yogurt at Yogurt-Inn and vice versa.

Consumers appreciate quality

Dell’ Edera’s family relocated to Ethiopia years ago to join the construction industry. During his schooling years Cristian helped out at the family business. Skills he acquired came in handy when he started building his restaurant.

“I did all the furnishing myself, complete from the plumbing to interior design. I wanted to create an ancient Italian place with antique furniture. There are not many like this, even in Italy,” he says.

Dell’ Edera hopes to replicate this Italian design and culture by expanding through a franchising model.

He notes that consumers appreciate efforts by businesses to deliver quality products. “There are people willing to pay and eat good food at a good place. They talk about my pizzas, even on the radio,” he notes.

In the future he plans to introduce frozen pizzas for sale in supermarkets. “We see lot of our customers take their pizzas home… In fact over the weekends more pizza is bought as a take-away because ours are big and ideal for sharing,” he says. “So, I believe frozen pizzas will also do well.”