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Photo Credit: COURTESY: MARRAKESH - Belly dancers routinely perform at Marrakesh. Marrakesh sits on the corner of Northrup and NW 21st, under the shadow of the Legacy Good Samaritan campus.


The building doesn’t scream for attention, barring the terra cotta pink paint, but the owner of the Moroccan eatery, Mohamed Ibrahim, is proving that the old adage is true: if you build it, they will come — and the customers have continued to come since 1989.

The Northwest Portland restaurant celebrated its 25 year anniversary earlier this year, with roughly 140 people attending the special event, Ibrahim says.

Marrakesh has been located in the same building for about 20 years, he says, although it did open and operate on 23rd for five years.

“I feel like people around here are really supportive of us, and helpful, and I enjoy being here,” he says.

Ibrahim opened the restaurant shortly after coming to the United States in 1986. He says he credits the success of the eatery to hard work and consistency.

“The food, service, atmosphere, everything has to be the same,” he says. “When you have a good reputation, people come back.”

Known for its traditional Moroccan five-course meals, the restaurant is open seven days a week, from 5-10 p.m. He says only offering dinner is better suited to the restaurant, largely because of time constraints.

“I tried lunch, but people like the experience of having a five-course meal and relaxing,” he says. “Lunch, they want to just have lunch and go.”

Photo Credit: COURTESY: MARRAKESH - Group seating is the norm at the Marrakesh with the traditional hand-washing ceremoy taking place before each meal.For less than $20 a person, diners gets a traditional Moroccan lentil soup, two salads, one of the more than 15 main dishes of their choosing, and dessert — all served with mint tea. One of the more popular dishes offered is the chicken b’stilla, a flaky, savory pie, stuffed with chicken, crushed almonds, onions, and spices, and garnished with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Ibrahim splits his time between Portland and Seattle, where he owns a second Marrakesh restaurant, managed by a business partner. His visits are mostly spent ensuring the location is maintained, and the food is up to his standards. That restaurant opened several years after the Portland location, he says.

“One thing here, one thing there, that’s the story of a restaurant; it’s like a baby,” he says. “In the restaurant business you have to be there, you have to see what’s going on.”

As both restaurants continue to succeed, Ibrahim says he is considering opening a third location, most likely in another state, however exact details are still being determined. He says he’s looking outside Oregon and Washington because of the high number of out of state tourists he sees who visit Marrakesh, including from Kentucky, Arizona, Utah and Idaho, among others.

The restaurant occupies a multistory, mixed-use building, and operates out of 4,000 square feet of the space. Marrakesh employs about 12 people, however that typically increases during the winter, its busiest season, he says.

Ibrahim says the restaurant sees more patrons on Fridays and Saturdays than other days during the week.

Offered since it opened, belly dancers provide entertainment for diners Wednesday through Sunday. Although some people think belly dancing is “sleazy,” he says the dance is a family-friendly art form, and a popular form of entertainment in Middle Eastern countries. Mondays and Tuesdays are left open for people who want to have a quieter dinner without belly dancing, he says.

“The staff, the seating, the belly dancers, it all works together,” he says.

For the most part, Ibrahim says Marrakesh has continued to see an uptick in business, however it did slow during the recession.

“When the economy went down a little bit, everybody went down a little bit,” he says.

Although food prices continued to rise during that time, he chose not to raise the menu prices until last year, he says as he wanted to keep meals reasonable even as people were cutting back on spending.

“If I raised the prices, a lot of people weren’t going to be able to come,” he says, adding prior to the increase, the price had stayed the same since the mid-’90s.

Owning and operating a restaurant isn’t for everyone he says, and he advises anyone thinking of getting into the business to do it only if they have a passion for it.

“Sometimes when you stand up there, when you stand in the kitchen, you feel happy,” he says of his experience running the restaurant. “It’s not the money, you can lose money; money will not make you happy.”

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