GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new Grand Rapids restaurant is giving visitors the Egyptian experience without making the nearly 6,000-mile trip.
Visitors who step into A Taste of Cairo are instantly transported overseas by the music and décor.
“This music and Umm Kulthum herself — in Egypt, we call her the fourth pyramid and we love her, we love her music and her art, so we always play her music in all our locations,” co-owner Riham Erdman said.
INSIDE THE RESTAURANT
Pots of cactuses and succulents line the storefront window. Keychains, purses and rings from Egypt hang on another wall.
“They are for sale and they’re decoration at the same time,” co-owner Dale Erdman explained.
Above that display is a pair of puppets from Egypt that the Erdmans say they bring to every place they open for good luck. Their new restaurant also features Egyptian linens typically used for religious celebrations, an Egyptian rug made from camel wool, Arabic signs with words of advice, walls painted in an orange-pink hue to mimic clay pottery used in Egypt, and a couple of art pieces that include the “evil eye,” which is prevalent in Egyptian culture.
“It just gives us the positive energy, protects us from any ‘evil eye’ or negative energy,” Riham Erdman explained.
An ornate set of cups and tools for making Turkish coffee is also on display. Riham Erdman says they will use the set’s boiling pot on their burner to brew made-to-order cups of Turkish coffee. Customers can choose between regular, caradamom, hazelnut or a special blend of herbs and spices made exclusively for the Grand Rapids restaurant.
While the décor is different, A Taste of Cairo’s menu is similar to what the couple’s Midland restaurant offers, minus falafel sandwiches and bread. Dishes at the Grand Rapids restaurant include grape leaves, lentil soup, baklava, spinach pie, a rice pudding and kanafa. Additional drink options include Chai, hibiscus and other herbal teas and a soda called Sinalco, which is popular in the Middle East. But the star of the menu is the popular Egyptian street food called koshery.
“What we heard and grew up on is during the World War, the soldiers used to eat all the leftovers of food. So… in their pockets, they would put some rice, and somebody else has some noodles and somebody has some lentils and whatever is left over from all the days, and then they would mix them all together to eat it. They would have a bowl full of rice, noodles and whatever,” Riham Erdman said. “Noodles, rice and lentils, they grow in Egypt and they are very cheap, so it became popular. And it’s now like the poor man or the working man’s favorite meal.”
The Erdmans make all of the dishes themselves using Egyptian recipes passed down through the generations of Riham Erdman’s family. Dale Erdman says they “don’t stray from traditional ingredients,” which means filling suitcases with seasonings and herbs during each trip to Egypt and frequent trips across the state.
“We have to drive to Dearborn almost weekly to get supplies,” Dale Erdman said. “Yes, it’s probably more expensive for us to do that (drive), which we don’t reflect on the prices of our dishes. But it’s important that we stay authentic.”
Prices range from about $6 for baklava to $9 for a full 1-pound container of koshery. Meals are packaged for takeout but customers can dine on the dishes in two common areas within the building.
“We feel very, sorry… because our prices have gone a little bit higher, but all the supplies have gone very high nowadays and we are trying to make it suitable for everybody, so we want people to forgive us. We’re trying to keep the quality very good as it was always was and we’re trying to keep us going, too,” Riham Erdman said.
EGYPTIAN LOVE STORY
Riham Erdman was born and raised in Egypt until she came to Michigan on a Fulbright scholarship in 2012. She started teaching Arabic language and culture through the Fulbright program at Saginaw Valley State University while pursuing her doctorate.
Dale Erdman proposed to Riham at SVSU, then the couple traveled to Egypt to present the engagement to her family. It was during that visit that Dale Erdman fell in love with the food and came up with another proposal: opening their own business showcasing popular Egyptian dishes.
“We dedicated most of our time to the business to grow it up. I still teach here and there, but I like the business and I want to devote my time to give it more,” Riham Erdman said.
The couple talked through starting their own business during the two years Riham Erdman spent in Egypt awaiting her visa. In 2016, they followed a small business advisor group’s advice and launched their concept at the Davison farmer’s market.
“And we had big success in the farmer’s market,” Dale Erdman said.
The eventually expanded to other farmer’s markets, including Midland’s. That’s where the calls for a brick-and-mortar restaurant started.
Those calls were answered in 2020 when the Erdmans opened Egyptian Koshery in Midland.
“When everything was shut down, we were sitting at home like everybody else, we decided to go for a ride,” Dale Erdman said. “We went to Midland… and we drove to the one plaza that we were dreaming about. If we could get in, this is what we’d want to do. As soon as we pulled up, we saw ‘now renting.’ So we hurry up (and) call them. He was excited about having our food in there because it was so different. So we did that for two years. And then here we are in Grand Rapids.”
Dale Erdman says Grand Rapids seemed like the natural next step to growing their business, since it’s the second largest city in Michigan. Riham Erdman says their concept complements what Grand Rapids already offers.
“We consider ourselves to be different than anybody. We are… an Egyptian restaurant. We are vegan and vegetarian only, so we are different in many ways. We are not competing with anybody. Our main target is to spread the Egyptian culture and language if we can,” she said.
A Taste of Cairo’s starting business hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Dale Erdman says they hope to expand those hours and hold a grand opening celebration once they’ve hired restaurant staff.
“I’d love it to be July or maybe even sooner, but we need people,” he said.
Interested potential applicants are encouraged to send their resume to