What's the Africana story?
Ouattara: I'm from Ivory Coast and Zeba's from Burkina Faso, so we grew up as neighbors, though we met in Madison. I went to UW-Stevens Point, majoring in computer information and business administration. I got a job in the IT department at TomoTherapy - that's what brought me to Madison. The African community was always getting together and asking people to cook, so I thought, why not just open a place of our own? That's how I brought Africana to life. We opened on June 5 at 5 p.m., and people were at the door an hour in advance.
Mamadou: I went to school back home, and then I moved to New York. One of my cousins lives in Madison. About five years ago he invited me to visit. I came for a week and said I don't think I'll be able to stay; it's way too quiet here. But my cousin said just be patient, you'll see this is one of the best places in the world to live. After three months I started meeting people and making friends. Now it's my favorite city, too. I met Yul three years ago. We became like brothers. So when he told me he was going to open a restaurant I encouraged him, and that's how I ended up working here.
What's on the menu?
Ouattara: Mainly West African food. We picked the region's most popular dishes. One of our chefs is from Ivory Coast, another is from Senegal. We have yassa from Senegal -chicken and rice with onion sauce. It has a real kick. Egusi is Nigeria's famous thick soup of meats and vegetables. Our most popular dish is maffe: peanut butter sauce with tomatoes and onions, served with vegetables or meat. It comes with rice or fufu [pounded yams], but I'd take the fufu any time. It's really earthy food, healthy and delicious.
Mamadou: We don't make the food very hot - we serve little dishes of the chef's special sauce on the side so you can spice up your meal as much as you like. It's more powerful that Jamaican red hot pepper sauce. People just love it.
Ouattara: We serve everything on wooden plates we got in Ivory Coast. Even the forks, spoons and cups are wooden. We wanted to bring the total African experience to Madison's dining scene.
Have you always been foodies?
Ouattara: Back home my parents own a gas station and restaurant. As the first child I started working there early on, so I knew I'd be good at this when I decided Madison needed a West African restaurant.
Mamadou: I grew up watching my sister cook. I loved to eat, and she would tell me how she made each dish so when I grew up I'd be able to make it for myself. I don't cook here, but I do some DJ-ing. Thursday through Sunday we push the tables back and put on music at 10:30. People just start dancing - they can't resist. Friday is reggae, Saturday is African and world beat. Sunday is Latin night. Africana is for everybody, not just Africans.