GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The owners of an Egyptian restaurant that opened in Grand Rapids in June have closed their doors for good.
The owners of A Taste of Cairo at 125 Ottawa Ave. NW near Pearl Street announced the shutdown on Aug. 24.
“We threw in the towel,” co-owner Dale Erdman said. “In August, after paying rent and paying the last payroll, that was it, that was over. We had nothing.”
Dale Erdman said the biggest problem that pushed them over the edge was the inability to find staff.
“We always intended on opening Grand Rapids and then hiring people, training them and have them work it hopefully within a month of us opening, but we just never got the applicants,” Dale Erdman said.
The Erdmans say they joined the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, which put out a “help wanted” ad to colleges in spring before they signed a lease, but no applicants came out of that. The owners say the applicants they did eventually get weren’t committed.
“I think this happens because of the unemployment checks,” Riham Erdman said. “They contact us and they say, ‘OK, we are ready to work and we will apply…’ And we give them a time to get interviewed… and they never showed up. They never showed up. So they just want to prove that they are trying to get employed, but they don’t, they are not serious at all,” she said.
“We actually did hire one guy. He sat with Riham, he interviewed for about an hour and we hired him and told him to come in the next day. And he never showed,” Dale Erdman said.
The Erdmans say they posted hiring announcements on Facebook, their website and at their store. They say they also raised the starting wage to $12 then $15 with tips, but it still didn’t bring any dedicated employees through the doors.
Riham Erdman says the four hours they spent driving daily to operate the Grand Rapids restaurant was also a challenge. The owners say they tried to find a place to live about halfway between both businesses, but there was nothing they could afford.
Despite the support of Grand Rapids’ retail retention and attraction specialist Richard App and several loyal customers, the Erdmans say community response wasn’t enough.
“We had a very warm welcome followed by a very cold shoulder it seemed,” Dale Erdman said.
“We are vegan and vegetarian and we are Middle Eastern and we are Muslims, so we are not providing alcohol. And many people in this area were depending on a bar theme and alcohol, and many people would expect us to be having steak or shawarma and we are not providing those items,” Riham Erdman said.
The couple says they offered a 20% off discount to other tenants within their building, but it still didn’t bring enough people through the doors to cover their costs as they had planned.
In August, the Erdmans lost two employees in Midland who had returned to college, so they returned to work at their original location and closed up their Grand Rapids shop.
“We’re just going to focus more on what we can do for our surrounding community, build off that and then talk about expansion after that. But I think for the next two years at least, we’re going to stay put and just focus on this place,” Dale Erdman said.
The Erdmans say they lost about $20,000 on the Grand Rapids business and their landlord, CWD Real Estate Investment, is still demanding $10,000 they don’t have. A spokesperson for CWD told News 8 the company’s policy is not to comment on “pending issues.”
Dale Erdman says he doesn’t regret opening in Grand Rapids, but they learned a lesson from it: “If you can’t man it yourself, don’t do it.”
“It’s just business, I don’t take it personal. I think Riham took it a little more personal,” Dale Erdman said.
“It didn’t work out, so now we just go back to the drawing board. We have to go back and build the bank account up again and try again. It doesn’t deter me from trying again at all,” he added.
The Erdmans say they still get messages from Egyptian koshery fans in Grand Rapids, asking when they’ll be open again. When asked if they would come back to Grand Rapids, the Erdmans say only on four wheels.
“If we did anything again, it would be a truck, a food truck. So that way we could drive there or anywhere, do what we do, and if it’s just not going well, we can just drive away,” Dale Erdman said.
Riham Erdman has added two new options to the Midland menu since then and the couple says their West Michigan fans are always welcome to visit.
“If anybody wants to take a road trip, we made that trip every day… So if they want to do it one day and they’ll see the dedication we put in for three months, I think they would appreciate it,” Dale Erdman said.
“We had good intentions. We wanted to spread our culture and to share our food with them. And we wanted to even share our language and everything which is popular in Egypt, we wanted to bring it to Grand Rapids. But if we couldn’t do this, they can still come and share it with us in Midland,” Riham Erdman added.
The Erdmans opened their Midland restaurant in September 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, so they say they’re used to a difficult business climate.
“The last couple of years have been really hard, but it hasn’t dampened our spirits at all. You’ve got to keep going. You have to really try,” Dale Erdman said.
Fans of A Taste of Cairo are encouraged to follow the original business’ Facebook page for updates.