Months of relying on takeout sales were a struggle for Theodora and Sylvester Osei-Forwuo, the owners of African Grill & Bar at 955 South Kipling Parkway in Lakewood. Without face-to-face interaction, they weren’t able to explain the menu, which Theodora believes cost them business. The restaurant has an eight-page menu of African dishes, and the Osei-Fordwuos are usually excited to explain the distinctions in tastes and flavors to customers. “It takes time for people to know about our food,” Theodora adds.
The Lakewood African Grill & Bar celebrates two years in business this month, but it's not the couple's first eatery. One of the hardest decisions of the past year was deciding to close their flagship restaurant in Green Valley Ranch. So Theodora and Sylvester are grateful to be seating customers again, and are eager to put the difficulties of the last twelve months behind them. “We’re not going anywhere,” Theodora says. “We want people to know about African food.”
Both grew up cooking with their families in Ghana. As one of twelve siblings, Sylvester remembers pounding fufu, a traditional dough, as a kid. And as the oldest in her family, Theodora says she started cooking at seven years old. The couple immigrated to the United States in the early 2000s and decided to open an African restaurant as a way to share not only Ghanaian food, but also a selection of African dishes from across the continent.
“I never call the restaurant a Ghanaian restaurant,” Theodora says. “We all eat almost the same. The difference is the spice and how they prepare it, but most of the ingredients are the same ingredients.”
Dishes range from appetizers such as kelewele, diced plantains mixed with ginger sauces before frying; samosas, pastries filled with ground meat or vegetables; and akara or koose, savory doughnuts made using black-eyed peas. Most of the entrees come as combinations, such as pounded yam with lamb and spinach soup, goat jerk curry with wakye rice, or aprapransa, roasted corn flour cooked with palm butter alongside tomato stew and vegetables or a choice of protein (chicken, beef, lamb, oxtail, goat or tilapia). The starchy fufu that Sylvester learned how to make as a child is also on the menu, along with similar dishes made from plantain, cassava, cornmeal, yam or rice.
African Grill & Bar is the only restaurant in Denver to offer such variety. After briefly opening and closing their first African restaurant in 2004, the Osei-Fordwuos opened African Grill & Bar in Aurora in 2010. They quickly found a following around the city, winning much recognition (you'll find the eatery on Eat Here, our list of 100 favorite restaurants). With their success, they moved from Aurora to a larger space in Green Valley Ranch, which became a destination for travelers passing through Denver International Airport. They purchased the Lakewood property two years ago with the idea of expanding their business — but the pandemic changed those plans.
“We had to make a choice, either to keep the Lakewood or the Green Valley restaurant,” Theodora says. “The Lakewood [restaurant] is our own building...and Lakewood has been great for us. People are nice, and they’ve been very supportive.”
A lack of travelers at Denver International Airport during the pandemic and high rent prices convinced them to sell the Green Valley Ranch location and focus on their Lakewood restaurant, which encompasses two dining areas and a 200-seat capacity during normal times. The owners are currently seating customers in one dining room and hoping to rent the second space for private parties. The Osei-Fordwuos also specialize in providing catering for special events — but that was another 2020 loss, since university luncheons and dinners were a big part of their business.
They even struggled to get all the spices they normally source from Ghana because of lags in flights. Food here also increased in price; ingredients such as oxtail rose to $7 per pound. “You can’t go and increase your menu [prices] every time you go to the market,” Theodora continues. “You end up not getting that much for everything you’re doing.”
Despite the setbacks, the couple remains hopeful. “If you keep on pushing, you’ll make it,” Theodora says. “You don’t give up. There’s obstacles. There’s challenges.”
She explains that much of her strength comes from her faith and from the desire to provide for her three children, Nana, Maame and Oheneba (all of whom spend time working in the restaurant). Still, many of her days are long: They begin around six in the morning and can last beyond midnight. When business picks up, she hopes to hire one or two additional staff members in addition to herself and her family.
But African Grill & Bar is always going to remain a family-centered restaurant. “We are family here. We don’t take anyone for granted,” Theodora states. “Food is a strength to connect us all if we have open minds and are ready to share each other’s culture.”
African Grill & Bar is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day but Sunday. Call 303-985-4497 for details, or visit the restaurant's website for menus, online ordering and table reservations (recommended, especially if you prefer to dine on the small patio).
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