WEST RIDGE — On Friday, the former Noora Cafe at 6310 N. Western Ave. will officially reopen as Simi's, a new family owned Nigerian restaurant named after the married owners' first daughter.
Ajibola Johnson, a Nigerian native who has lived in Rogers Park for years, said he and his wife, Funmibi, a pharmacist by trade, decided to pursue their dream of opening a restaurant.
"It's definitely a different ballpark than we're used to, but we're up for it," Johnson said.
The word "simi" means "rest in wealth," and is also the name of their 13-month-old daughter, who Johnson said was excited to "grow up with the restaurant."
Simi's menu features dishes that take an upscale but approachable spin on traditional West African cuisine that Johnson hopes will speak to the many cultures and ethicalities in the neighborhood, not just Africans.
His wife mainly developed the menu alongside a chef the couple hired to create dishes and tastes that would have broad appeal.
Meat and fish stews, fried plantains, fresh tapioca and rich sauces can be paired with soups and rice for lunch or dinner, and Simi's is BYOB, Johnson said.
Johnson also said in the store's beginning stages, medical students from Nigeria will volunteer as the wait staff. The students are doing internships at Presence Saints Mary hospital in Chicago, Johnson said. He said he is also in the process of interviewing other candidates, so those students may soon be replaced with hired servers.
His vision for the restaurant is to be able to pride itself on excellent service, ambiance and consistent taste, he said, all traits that will distinguish him from other African restaurants in the area, he said.
On Saturday, Johnson said about 40-50 guests were invited for a "test run" of the business that helped him gauge where things like portions, pricing and menu offerings needed to be tweaked.
By Friday, he said Simi's should be ready to go.
The eatery will be next door to an upcoming Wendy's restaurant at 6324 N. Western Ave., and will take the place of Noora Cafe, a Middle Eastern restaurant whose license expired mid-December.
Johnson said he and his wife were excited to welcome the community into his newest venture.
Simi's is closed Mondays, and open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
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