In March 2020, a new West African restaurant opened its doors in Midtown East, Manhattan, only a three-minute walk from the United Nations headquarters. Voilà Afrique, a family-owned restaurant, was forced to close due to COVID-19 regulations just three weeks later. Despite a rocky start, the West African fusion spot has weathered the pandemic and is now reopened and thriving. Check out my 4-star review of Voilà Afrique here.
|Address: 844 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10017 (enter through E. 45th)|
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 12PM-8PM
Service: Delivery, Takeout
Contact: (917) 327-3510, [email protected], voilaafrique.com
Voilà Afrique’s Inspiration
Voilà Afrique was the brainchild of Margarete Duncan, who had always dreamed of having her own restaurant. Though they all have careers outside of the food industry, her husband, George, and their three daughters were eager to help make her vision a reality.
It is truly a family operation, with Mrs. Duncan as executive chef, Mr. Duncan as the general manager, and their children helping with delivery and marketing operations. “We all have our hands in everything,” Abena, Mrs. Duncan’s daughter, laughs.
The family emigrated to the United States ten years ago from Accra, Ghana and soon noticed the dearth of food options available from their homeland.
“As a Ghanaian family we love to invite people into our home to cook. So we just took that leap,” Abena explained. “There was a gap in the restaurant industry in Manhattan for brick and mortar Ghanaian food with Latin and Caribbean fusion. [We thought we could be] something different for those who crave that home cooked food and those interested in trying West African food. [We wanted to put] West African food on the map, to make it as accessible for the average American as Chinese or Thai.”
Serving up West African Fusion in Manhattan
The menu is definitely enticing, and it is accessible even to those who may not be very familiar with West African cuisine. The restaurant has vegan, halal, and organic options that make its offerings compatible with just about any diet.
There are two main categories one can choose from: the $9.99 Rice Combos and the Regular Packs. The former option is perfect for a filling lunch, with combos such as jollof rice and oxtail stew as well as coconut fried rice and country fried wings.
The Regular Packs include a base, a sauce or protein, and any extras you would like, making it reminiscent of Chipotle. Bases consist of West African starches such as jollof rice, pounded yam, and plantain fufu in addition to Caribbean options like rice and beans and coconut fried rice.
You then choose your sauce or protein, with choices ranging from oxtail stew to beef suya kabobs. To top it all off, Voila Afrique has free hot sauces, a vegan salsa-like red pepper sauce and a spicy black pepper sauce known as shito.
Abena’s personal favorite menu item is the beef suya, which is a West African kebab roasted with a peanut-based spice mix. “I love spicy food. Even though I don’t eat a lot of meat, suya spice is the most underrated spice in the world,” she says. “It just takes everything to the next level. [My order would be] suya with coconut fried rice and any of our spicy sauces.”
Currently, Voilà Afrique is offering a Thanksgiving special on sauces and rice dishes. Preorder here by Tuesday, November 24th.
Voilà Afrique as a Blueprint for West African Restaurants
Now that the restaurant has been up and running for a few months, the owners are excited to get involved with community initiatives. One goal they have is to begin assisting essential workers through food donation.
Voilà Afrique is also participating in the New York Tri-State Black Restaurant Week. This is exciting for the owners, not only because it has meant increased exposure for the new eatery, but also due to the event’s mission of bringing Black-owned restaurants to the forefront.
“We want to motivate other Africans to start their own restaurants and feel like they will get customers. African food is seen as such a niche,” Abena says. “We hope to get more people interested in our cuisine. We had some American customers come in and try our jollof rice. The next time they visited, they told us that they had enjoyed the dish so much that they tried to make it themselves. We want to leave an impact where it will not be seen as odd to eat jollof rice. It will still be seen as exotic, but [West African food will] be woven into the fabric of American culture.”