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On Memorial Drive, Le Nouveau Maquis serves up Togolese dishes, and then some.
The jollof rice at Le Nouveau Maquis is so spicy your ears will be ringing and eyes will be watering after just a few bites. The grilled lamb served along with it is both tender and peppery. And the Egusi soup, made with ground melon seeds, sounds mild, but is a shock to the uninitiated palate (newcomers: go for the peanut soup!). But the food alone isn’t what makes the family-owned West African restaurant on Memorial Drive unique.
Twenty-six-year-old Fabiola Agbale co-runs the restaurant with her mother, Fanta. The current location has been up and running for the past three years, and before that, it was housed inside the African and International Market, just down the road. Together, the mother - daughter duo have created a rare space in Metro Atlanta - one that pays homage to their Togolese roots, but is also firmly planted in the present - in the ever-diverse strip of Memorial Drive in Stone Mountain.
The decor of Le Nouveau is testament to that: a portrait of Fanta hangs by the front door, painted by Fabiola’s Congolese friend who lives in the area. On the other side of the entrance is a wall filled with baskets of different sizes and shapes - some, says Fabiola, that she brought here from Togo, and some that she bought at the local Home Goods.
The dishes are served with utensils that are tucked into cloth pockets, handmade by her aunt who lives in Togo, as are the maroon and white outfits the servers are wearing. On another wall are wooden masks that Fabiola says she bought from Amazon, next to paintings from Togolese artists, including her own uncle.
Fabiola wants Le Nouveau to feel like home, not only for fellow immigrants from Togo (“we are a small country…so we’re a small community,” she says), but for immigrants from other parts of West Africa. “I stay away from saying that it's a Togolese only restaurant, because you want everybody to feel included in the food and the restaurant.”
Between 2000 and 2019, the population of immigrants from Africa grew by over 200 percent nationwide. In Metro Atlanta, the Black immigrant population - which includes people from Africa, as well as Central America, South America, and the Caribbean - has grown by 165 percent.
That growth is visible on Memorial Drive - which is full of businesses owned and run by immigrants from Africa.There’s Somali Plaza, a shopping center that includes a halal pizza joint, multiple bazaars selling traditional clothing, and the office of the Somali American Community Center. There’s also Meskel Ethiopian restaurant and Queen Sheba bakery, also Ethiopian, among others. And there are African grocery stores, where Fabiola shops for ingredients (she also sources ingredients directly from Togo), like Maria Africa Market and African and International Market.
At Le Nouveau, the menu’s offerings cater to immigrants from West Africa, but are also enjoyed by a wider customer base. It includes popular Senegalese dishes like thieboudien, a jollof rice prepared with fish, broken rice, and vegetables and chicken yassa, braised chicken with mustard sauce and onions. The cassava leaf soup, says Fabiola, is cooked in a style popular with Liberians and Sierra Leoneans “because this is one of the foods they eat the most.” And the turkey tail, and okra, also on the menu, are common in Togo.
She’s careful to point out though, that there’s a lot of overlap throughout the region. “In West Africa…because of colonization, a lot of places were divided even though they were one before.” She adds, “the ground melon seeds are actually found everywhere. So we all cook it. We may cook it differently. So we all use the seed and we all add vegetables of some sort to it.”
Fabiola’s dream is to build an African restaurant franchise across the country. “Let's say you end up in a state, like Utah or Nebraska…there’s nothing for you to feel at home with, nothing for you to connect with. You need a home…just something to tie you a little bit and just to help you progress forward.”
She doesn’t see the franchise happening anytime soon though. “I have time. I’m only 26…to put in the groundwork, I have time.”
When asked if she misses Togo she says, “Of course I miss home, but home is here too.” She adds, smiling, “I’m as Atlanta as it gets.”
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