A few years ago, Abdirahman "Abcos" Ahmed was in a situation that any restaurateur might fear: He had a wedding reception with 350 people, and his head chef didn't show up for work that afternoon.
So he donned an apron and began to cook, finishing on time and serving dishes the wedding party enjoyed so much, he said, they remain customers.
The Somalia native and longtime Minnesota resident has brought his brand of "African-inspired, American-made" cooking to Columbus with Afra Grill, which opened June 1 at 1635 Morse Road, east of Karl Road in north Columbus.
Afra Grill offers a build-your-own meal from rice, mulawah (a type of bread), salad, proteins or vegetables, hot and cold toppings and a sauce, costing $8.50 to $12.50.
"All of the ingredients we use are health-oriented," said Sagal Aden, Ahmed's wife, who will work with him most days at the restaurant.
A la carte sides include sambusa, which is a pastry triangle filled with savory ingredients fries and goat soup. The menu includes hot and cold beverages, desserts and smoothies.
Ahmed's route to Columbus started in Minneapolis, where he founded Safari Restaurant and Event Center in 2010.
"The timing wasn't good," he said. "It was a good time to learn and not a good time to start."
When Ahmed, a former management analyst for the state of Minnesota, decided to open his restaurant, he hired others to cook for him. After the chef's failure to show in 2012, he took over the kitchen.
"That's the day I decided to cook," he said.
Though he still owns Safari, Ahmed moved to Columbus 2 1/2 years ago and started a transportation company, but he didn't enjoy it. Columbus is where he met his wife, Aden, who is a nurse practitioner.
In response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Aden said, she will check customers' temperatures and direct them to the proper health agencies for help if they appear to be ill.
Customers may order a meal and have it brought to their car or be directed to the drive-up window, she said.
The restaurant seats 74 and will abide by state rules regarding safe social distancing, Ahmed said. A private dining area seats 10.
The interior is a mix of canary yellow, black and faux marble paneling. Posters pay homage to America's founding fathers, the U.S. Constitution, historic cultural figures and women's rights, said Ahmed, who promotes multiculturalism with his food and message.
"This is for everyone," he said.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For more information, call 614-591-3816.
When Ohio's restaurants were closed, save for carryout and delivery services, the Old Bag of Nails Pub began offering a $10 basket of fish and chips, the store's specialty, as a way to keep customers ordering.
Now that restaurants have reopened on a limited basis, the local chain's 11 central Ohio locations will continue offering the special to thank guests for their patronage, owner Mike Purdum said.
"I'm just happy to be open," Purdum said. "We may run it until the end of the year."