New diner opts American over exotic

Somali owners bring American food to Cedar Ave.

Manager Ilyas Jama prepares for the lunch hour in West Bank Diner Monday morning.  The West Bank Diner has recently re-opened on south Cedar Avenue in the University Cedar-Riverside neighborhood next to West Bank.

Manager Ilyas Jama prepares for the lunch hour in West Bank Diner Monday morning. The West Bank Diner has recently re-opened on south Cedar Avenue in the University Cedar-Riverside neighborhood next to West Bank.

Megan Nicolai

The smell of freshly cooked pancakes drifts constantly from the kitchen, filling the West Bank Diner.

The restaurant on Cedar Avenue South opened Oct. 4 in the space once home to Kilimanjaro Café. In a neighborhood known for its wide and eclectic array of cuisine choices, the diner markets itself as one of the few places for breakfast. It opens at 7 a.m. every day.

âÄúI like this area,âÄù said Ilyas Jama, manager of the diner. âÄúItâÄôs very multicultural.âÄù

Jama is originally from Somalia, but moved to Minneapolis in 1994. His first job was at a restaurant, and heâÄôs stayed in the industry ever since.

âÄúItâÄôs something I love doing,âÄù Jama said.

The restaurant is Somali-run, employing five people âÄî including JamaâÄôs wife and two cousins. But the food is American.

Jama said he wants to introduce the neighborhoodâÄôs Somali community to more traditional American fare âÄî plus, itâÄôs JamaâÄôs favorite cooking style.

âÄúMany Somalis donâÄôt know about American food,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôm in a unique position because of my culture.âÄù

Adrienne Peirce, executive director of the West Bank Business Association, said that businesses like the diner or the Afro Deli in the same neighborhood really cater to students, which can help the University of Minnesota and residents of the Cedar-Riverside community come together.

âÄúItâÄôs exciting in that neighborhood to have a Somali-owned business thatâÄôs doing a good job of catering to students,âÄù she said. âÄúMore and more of those successes help us to coalesce as a community.âÄù

Most dishes cost less than $10. Jama hopes a lack of breakfast spots in the area will bring in business.

Sarah Lageson, a graduate student at the University, is a patron of the diner. Instead of the regular âÄúgreasy spoonâÄù she expected from a breakfast diner, her meal was made with fresh produce.

âÄúThereâÄôs a lot of blending of flavors,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs almost representative of the neighborhood. You can tell theyâÄôre working hard to please a lot of different groups.âÄù

The diner features half-price waffles every Monday, and a stack of pancakes goes for $5 on Wednesdays.

But Jama said he worries about a lack of customers later in the day, when other restaurants open and competition intensifies.

To compete, the diner has developed a large social media presence. Facebook is full of positive reviews. One of the patrons called the diner âÄúAmazing Somali-run American-style breakfast.âÄù

Peirce said she first noticed the new diner on Twitter. She said Jama is doing an excellent job of attracting customers in a modern way.

âÄúTheyâÄôre taking a really current approach to marketing,âÄù Peirce said.

But Jama said he plans to intensify advertising even more around the University to bring in more students.

Peirce said the crowd she saw at the diner was about half University students and half residents of the community.

âÄúSo far the feedback is positive,âÄù Jama said. âÄúItâÄôs very encouraging.âÄù