In New Orleans, dining is a sort of sacrament that embraces cuisines from all the cultures that make up the city's gumbo of residents and visitors. Chef-owner Fanta Tambajang, who moved to the United States from Gambia, Africa, recognized that when she opened her first African eatery more than a decade ago and has enjoyed enough success at Bennachin Restaurant (1212 Royal St., 522-1230) to support a second location that is scheduled to open in the fall.
"The building (for the new restaurant) is on Oretha Castle Haley," she says. "But it's not quite ready." There is no projected opening date yet, but Tambajang says she expects to seat customers there in the next few months. Because she will manage both the French Quarter location and the new restaurant, she will look to her daughter, Sali Matou, and son, Manju Tambajang, for help in running the new operation.
Fanta Tambajang, who cooks all the dishes at Bennachin to order from fresh, local produce, opened her first restaurant in Metairie more than a decade ago, moved it to Carrollton Avenue where she operated about 10 years, then found a new location in the French Quarter a year and a half ago. Many regulars have followed her to the Vieux Carre, where she finds new customers among tourists.
The menu, she says, is home-style cooking in the traditions of Gambia and Cameroon. "Basically, it's how we cooked at home," she says. "After people eat it, they say it's good. Sometimes it tastes like their grandmother's cooking or Creole cooking."
Like many other New Orleanians transplanted from other locales, Tambajang moved to the city after she came to visit a relative who had just had a baby. "I was just [in the United States] in Ohio for a year," she says. "It was too cold for me. I came here to visit and I liked the weather, it was like the back-home weather so I just stayed here."
"I looked around and I didn't see any African cooking. I said New Orleans is known for good food, but they're missing something.' So we had to put in some African cooking."
It's an idea customers have taken to over the years, stopping in periodically for favorites such as Doh-Doh (fried ripe plantains), Akara (black-eye peas fritters), Janga (sauteed shrimp with cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and cous cous), Nsouki Alyse (chicken, shrimp and cashews served with rice and brown gravy) and many other dishes. The atmosphere is relaxed, with tables covered with batik tablecloths from Gambia and African paintings and other art from Ghana.
A Fresh Approach
In a salon- and spa-rich city like New Orleans, opening a new such business is risky-- unless you are at the top of your game and offer a new approach to beauty and relaxation. Amanda Fresh, who has worked at various venues in the city's spa industry for six years, incorporated both those things with success in opening Fresh Day Spa (801 S. Carrollton Ave., 861-4404) about five months ago.
"We're a full-service salon and spa," she says. "We offer pretty much everything: makeup, massage, waxing, nails, hair, facials, microdermabrasion, photorejuvenation." The shop also uses and sells cosmetics and skin-care and hair products from manufactures not common elsewhere.
"We have Minerologie makeup," Fresh says. "It's one of the mineral cosmetic lines. Nobody (in the city) has it. It's all custom-blended, SPF 26, water resistant. Anyone can wear it." She likes the line because the minerals in it make it a healing ointment for skin that has undergone treatments as well as a beautifying makeup that's good for your complexion. "It's good for all skin types," she says. "It reflects the light, so it has a kind of luminescent glow (that looks healthy) instead of a matte finish. It covers well."
Fresh spa also offers customers Bioelements skin-care products and Pureology and Fudge hair care lines.
Since the spa began operating March 24, Fresh has doubled her staff to keep up with the number of customers and is attracting those who like to shop along Maple Street, students at nearby Tulane University and others in the Uptown neighborhood.
"The first month we did great," she says. "The second month we tripled what we did the first month." Fresh attributes the success so far to a staff that knows what to do, enjoys providing services and gets along well with coworkers.
"We're very professional, but very welcoming," Fresh says of the staff at the new spa. "We don't have uniforms; all the girls are real casual here, but we really do a good one-on-one with our clients. People who come in usually come back." The spa is open at 9 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. It closes at 6 p.m. except for Wednesday and Thursday, when the hours are extended to 7 p.m.
- Tourist Lyla Simon of Toronto feeds Tom Fairservis of Syracuse, N.Y., a fried ripe plantain, or Doh-Doh, during lunch at Bennachin Restaurant.