African cuisine encompasses an array of different cultures — many of which aren’t sufficiently represented by the exclusively-Ethiopian restaurants around Denver. Even so, Abyssinian (Ethiopian) food remains delicious and adds significant spice to the variety of eateries that surround the city.
Curious about cuisines from other regions in Africa, we ventured to African Grill and Bar — a vibrant little restaurant near the Denver International Airport. The owners shared more than their food with us as we spoke about their establishment — including their journey from Ghana that led to the opening of this authentic eatery.
Adwoa Theodora (Maame Adwoa) and her husband Sylvester Osei Fordwuo (Nana) first moved to America in 2000 with the intention of starting a restaurant. The couple spent several years building enough income to support their dream — one that eventually became a reality in 2004 with the opening of Afrikoko at a location off Montview and Clinton.
Sadly, a series of unfortunate events led to the closure of the couple’s business that same year.
“We started the restaurant in 2004 with the name Afrikiko … it folded up the same year because of a bad contract we had with the previous owner,” Maame Adwoa said. The couple did not speak further on the matter except to disclose information on the various businesses they ran from their family home to stay afloat until they could eventually open another restaurant.
“We moved and started cooking from home to be able to save some money… between 2006 and 2009 we were surviving with the help of a food bank,” said Maame Adwoa.
The Fordwuo family is Christian, and Maame Adwoa spoke about how they often turned to their faith and hard work to improve the family’s financial stance. Despite how intense and negative their experience was, Maame Adwoa said they learned to cope through acceptance.
“We realized it’s life … you have to go through it and it’s how you come out of it. That’s how we got to where we are today…. at the end of the day it’s God who gives us strength,” she added.
This calm and centered state of mind led to the opening of African Grill and Bar in 2010. Maame Adwoa does all the cooking by herself, although she does receive help from her three children — Nana Serwaa, 16-years-old, Maame Antwiwaa, 13-years old, Oheneba, 10-years-old, and her husband Nana Kojo.
The family does not have any other employees and Adwoa says that despite the importance of having an income to support the business, they enjoy teaching guests about different cultures across Africa through the menu and over all dining experience.
“We don’t want people’s money — we want them to come in here and enjoy and appreciate it. We invest everything we have into it to be able to make it… we get in between 6 and 8 a.m. and don’t leave until around 1 or 2 a.m.,” she said.
African Grill and Bar lies at the edge of a strip mall about 10 miles from the Denver International Airport. The door is glass which allows you to see the grills that line the other side of the entrance. Walking in, there is white high-top counter with a small window where guests can place their orders or wait for a table. There is a petite bar which lines a small portion of the left side of the room. The right side of the restaurant is made of a mirror and in the space between the top of this wall and ceiling hang colorful fabrics, some with geometrical shapes — like those worn by women in West Africa. On Saturday nights, drummers host a live performance underneath the lights of a small stage that sits at the front of the dining hall. Guests are always welcome to dance.
The menu includes dishes from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya that range anywhere from $5 to $35. From the appetizers — fried plantains ($6), moi moi ($5) Nigerians black eyed pea beans pudding and kelewele ($10) diced plantains mixed with ginger before being fried — are some of the favorites.
For the main dish, Africa Grill and Bar has a wide selection of curries or guests can choose one of the chef’s specials. Some of the favorites are a coconut stew ($16) with coconut, spices and vegetables served with chicken or the curry stew ($16) — a spicy mix of vegetables in a curry with chicken and white rice. Guests can also substitute the chicken for goat, lamb, beef, oxtail, cow feet or turkey tail for an additional $2. All of the meats are tender and fall off the bone as you bite into the sapid mix of steamed spices. The rice is hot and fluffly — balancing the intense kick of each colorful stew. Notably guest can choose the amount of spice they would like in their curry.
Maame Adwoa and her family hope to one day own a business where they can hire help in a larger space. For now, though, they are so happy to accommodate their growing customer base and provide an authentic and joyful dining experience.
African Grill and Bar is located at 18601 Green Valley Ranch Boulevard #101, Denver. It is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m until 10 p.m.
All photography done by Kyle Cooper