Having eaten Hervé’s succulent chicken, sweet plantain and fluffy rice for lunch multiple times, Alexandra Heal decided it was time to pin him down for an interview, to discover the kind of motivation needed to create such perfect food and such a unique setting.
What’s the story behind your business?
Before I opened Oh Africa!, I was a sales assistant at Les Galeries Lafayette. In my free time I loved cooking African food at home, and I started to notice there were lots of places selling ‘fast food’ but no where selling ‘fast good’. People seemed to like my cooking, so I quit my job and started this place on my own. Four years later, ‘fast good’ is still the motto on my logo.
How would you describe your restaurant in three words?
Authentic, cosmopolitan, dynamic… Oh, and cosy.
What’s the aim of your business and how do you plan to develop?
I see Oh Africa! as a ‘concept store’. I want the restaurant to be a convivial place where people can meet and take in a little art exhibition or a live band, all over food and drink. I want to host constantly changing events and to generate a lively atmosphere in the market. There’s so much potential here.
I don’t wear a chef’s outfit because I want people to feel like they’re ‘chez Hervé’. In my eyes I’m at home here, cooking for my friends.
I’d like to open another outlet in the same area. I’m currently researching premises…
Why are independent businesses important?
Smaller places like mine bring variety and spirit to the neighbourhood. Big chains do have an identity, yes, but my restaurant is personal. I’ve decorated it with my own touch. It has a real human side.
It’s important to support smaller businesses because it is difficult setting one up. It takes a lot of sacrifice and there’s not much help. Many close within a year of opening.
If you were one of your dishes, which would you be?
The coconut chicken with some of my spicy sauce – because I’m sweet like the coconut but with a kick! Also, everyone likes this dish so it’s accessible. I like to think I’m an accessible, open person.
Marché Saint Quentin
85Bis Boulevard de Magenta
Photo by Alexandra Heal