Abay has a special place in my heart. This restaurant happens to be where Laura and I had one of our first dates. We have since enjoyed many meals there.
A few weeks ago on a busy Saturday evening we went to Abay for dinner. This time some things were a little off. The Kay Wat (Lean, chopped beef slowly simmered with berbere and a combination of seasonings) was greasy and the Butecha (Ground chickpeas mixed with olive oil, diced onions and green peppers) had more red onions than chickpeas. And the onions were very large and roughly chopped. After noticing a few other details about the components of our combination platter, we were concerned.
We thought maybe they got a new chef? Maybe Abay was now under different management?
Abay was packing them in that night. Multiple tables waited to be seated. On our way out I felt a little sad that maybe things were changing.
Days later, I ran into Jamie, owner of Abay.
I told him of my experience as I was trying to find out what had changed. Jaime has been a restaurateur for a few years now. He has consumed all of his time making Abay a successful restaurant. You can very quickly tell how passionate he is about the way things should be done and he will go far, Africa in this case, to find the perfect ingredients for his menu. He was concerned and interested in my comments, and told me that he would address it. Later that day he sent this email to his staff.
“…I’m sending this to everyone because it impacts each of you. I ran into a chef today whose opinion I respect. He has been eating at Abay since he moved to Pittsburgh from Spain a few years ago. He was quite candid about his last two visits to Abay. Due to the drop-off in the quality of the food, his party wondered if I either sold Abay or hired a new chef. His general sense was that the food coming out of the kitchen was done without the same care as it had been in the past. As for the meat dishes, he noted that they were too oily. With respect to the Butecha, he noticed that it was not properly broken up, the onions were diced too large, and there were too many onions, thus overpowering the dish.
One of the challenges of this business is consistently doing everything correctly with each customer day in and day out. The front needs to work in concert with the back to pull this off. Although it is exhausting, this meticulous approach is in part what has led to our success. Servers, if something is plated that doesn’t look as it should, address it with the kitchen immediately. Do not serve it.
Furthermore, if there is ANY customer complaint, bring it to my attention. If it is a critical issue, call me right away. If it is minor, tell the person who will be calling me with the numbers that evening so that they can inform me then.
In the over five years that Abay has been open, our objective has remained the same. We strive to be a unique, cultural venue that provides excellent food and service.”
The care that people like Jamie put into their food keeps restaurants like this thriving and makes them places we can always count on for a great culinary experience.