Dale and Riham Erdman were drawn together by a shared love of Egyptian food, and there’s nothing they want more than to pass that on to Grand Rapids.
The husband-and-wife team plan to open Taste of Cairo in the Ledyard Building at 125 Ottawa Ave. NW, inside the former Electric Hero sandwich shop, this spring.
If all goes well, they plan to host a soft opening beginning May 7 and a grand opening in early June.
The restaurant — which will serve vegan and vegetarian food — will offer as its signature item a popular Egyptian street food known as koshari (also spelled koshery), which consists of layers of noodles, rice, beans, fried onions, chickpeas and tomato sauce, served with a side of garlic sauce.
Taste of Cairo also will serve spinach pie similar to spanakopita, puddings, desserts, soups, Turkish coffee, chai tea and more.
Although there will be a minimal amount of seating inside the restaurant, as its theme is street food, Taste of Cairo mainly will focus on takeout and also will offer delivery through third-party apps such as Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats.
The Erdmans met in 2012 in a Spanish language class at Saginaw Valley State University, where Riham — a native of Egypt — was studying on a Fulbright Scholarship as part of her Ph.D. while teaching Arabic language and culture. Dale is from the Tri-Cities area and was a student at SVSU at the time.
At first, they were “just friends.” Then, Riham cooked a meal for Dale.
“I was trying to spread my culture and the popular foods of Egypt,” Riham Erdman said. “… Before I left to (return to) Egypt, I invited all my students and close friends to my apartment to have a farewell party, and I made the main dish, the most popular dish in Egypt, which is koshari, and invited everybody over. My husband tried it and then he decided to propose to me.”
They flew back to Egypt, as Riham’s student visa was ending, and they were married there. While in Egypt, Dale Erdman fell even deeper in love with Egyptian food and culture, and the couple knew they wanted to enter the restaurant business full time once they got back to Michigan.
Riham Erdman returned to the U.S. in 2016. They started selling their food at farmers markets that spring, then in September 2020, they opened their first restaurant, Egyptian Koshery, in Midland.
Undaunted by the pandemic, they then set their sights on Grand Rapids for a second location last year, because they knew the city’s downtown had plenty of foot traffic, which is a must for a street-food business.
The Erdmans have high hopes that their restaurant, which will be the only Egyptian eatery in downtown Grand Rapids, will be a hit on the strength of its star dish.
“Koshari is the most popular dish in Egypt. It’s like cheeseburgers here — you can go anywhere in Egypt and ask for it. It’s very easy, it’s very filling, and it’s very affordable,” Riham Erdman said.
The couple currently is in the process of renovating the restaurant and will be flying to Egypt in a few weeks to bring back décor that will give patrons a sense of being transported across continents when they walk in — complete with papyrus, paintings, Arabic writing on the walls and Arabic music playing on the radio to “set the mood,” Dale Erdman said.
“As soon as you walk in the door, you will know that you’re not in a traditional American restaurant,” he said.
Taste of Cairo does not yet have its own online presence, but people can visit the Egyptian Koshery Facebook page for updates.