Dinkytown basement cafe looks to grow

Marrakech Café opened in 2008 and has dealt with a down economy since then.

University of Minnesota alumna Barya Rislove walked through Dinkytown Wednesday afternoon in search of Middle Eastern food. The 2000 political science, international economics and Chinese graduate noticed the sign sitting outside of the Marrakech Café Coffee Shoppe and Mediterranean Deli and went inside. Located at 407 14th Ave. SE, Marrakech Café specializes in various coffee drinks, as well as offering Mediterranean sandwiches and salads. Despite having a basement location, Marrakech is still surviving in the recession. Manager Mustapha Abou Hajar, originally from Morocco, has been living in the United States for the last 12 years, moving to Minnesota in summer 2007. Marrakech opened in January 2008. Hajar said he brought the café to the Dinkytown location, previously the Starlight Coffee , because his wife, a chemical engineering student, decided to attend the University.

Opening in a recession

During the first four months of MarrakechâÄôs opening, business at the café was âÄúfine,âÄù Hajar said. He said the appeal was high because it was a new business. He said he added Mediterranean sandwiches and salads to compete with the other coffee shops surrounding Dinkytown. Hajar said he has not had to make many changes to his business yet because of the economic decline. âÄúItâÄôs not hurting me that much,âÄù Hajar said. âÄúSometimes I struggle to pay my bills but it was like this since we opened it.âÄù Business has âÄústayed the sameâÄù Hajar said. He said when the Marrakech Café opened, âÄúthe crisis was already there.âÄù âÄúI didnâÄôt see the good side, if there was a good side,âÄù he said. He said although they have added Mediterranean sandwiches and salads to their menu, competition is still evident among Dinkytown businesses. âÄúWe are in a very competitive area and we have to offer a lot of good service, so we can attract people,âÄù he said. Hajar said because the location of Marrakech is somewhat âÄúhiddenâÄù âÄî located in a basement âÄî he has had to adapt with trying to attract customers. Hajar said he has tried putting signs out to attract customers; however, having a business located in a basement is âÄústill hard.âÄù Spanish and speech, language and hearing sciences sophomore Dan DeLapp said he walks by Marrakech two or three times a week, but has only tried the food once. DeLapp said he has eaten at other deliâÄôs that have Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food in Minneapolis, such as the Holy Land Bakery and Deli , but enjoys comparing foods and trying new things.

Moving on

Many of Hajar âÄôs customers are University students, professors and faculty, he said. He said the business suffers the most when they are not on campus, such as during the summer and holidays. Hajar said he is considering implementing a dollar menu or student menu in the summer to attract customers, hoping to increase business. âÄúWe are expecting for it to get better,âÄù Hajar said. âÄúI hope we get more business and some more people to keep us in business.âÄù