Celebrating family recipes
This family-owned Somali restaurant has been serving the North Side community since 2014. Brothers Abdilahi and Mohamed Hassan are busy preparing for the restaurant’s exciting next chapter.
Getting Their Start: Abdilahi (who goes by A.B.) and Mohamed’s parents came to North America in the ’80s. The brothers are first-generation Americans who grew up in Toronto and Washington, D.C., before the family (the brothers have four sisters) settled in Columbus in 2003. “I grew up in the kitchen with my mom [Hayat Dalmar], and I put [the idea] in her head, ‘We’ve got to open a restaurant,’” Abdilahi says. After Abdilahi graduated with a degree in urban planning, he learned that the owners of Solay Bistro wanted to sell their Columbus Square restaurant. “I knew that the location wasn’t strategic ... but I figured that if we offered great quality food, fresh food, that people would come regardless of location,” he says.
Truly Global Cuisine: “Fusion before the word fusion was invented” is how Abdilahi describes Somali food. East African, Indian, Middle Eastern and Italian influences all show up in Somali fare because of geography, Somalia’s history as a trading center and colonialism. Take the Somali sambusa, a triangular stuffed pastry similar to Indian samosas. Pastas are common on the Somali table, and goat braised in spices is a staple, often paired with rice cooked with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. “The rice is the main attraction ... sometimes even more important than the meat,” Abdilahi says, with something akin to reverence.
Adventurous Eaters: Each Friday, Columbus Food Adventures’ Alt Eats Food Tour brings visitors to Hoyo’s. The brothers credit the tour company’s co-founders, Andy Dehus and Bethia Woolf (a Columbus Monthly contributor), for spreading the word about Hoyo’s. “If it wasn’t for them, none of this would be possible,” Abdilahi says. “We really wouldn’t have survived if it was just Somali [customers]. When we opened, we wanted this place to be a good environment for everybody,” Mohamed says.
North Market Comes Calling: After lunching at Hoyo’s one day, North Market executive director Rick Harrison Wolfe asked Abdilahi if he’d be interested in applying for a spot. “When they chose us, that was humbling. That made us feel like, ‘OK, maybe we’re doing something right.’” Starting this spring, Hoyo’s will launch in the North Market with a fast-casual menu featuring rice bowls with proteins, along with wraps using the traditional Somali flatbread sabaayad.
Dreaming Big: The Hassans still consider Hoyo’s a young enterprise with big dreams. “It makes sense for the North Market to start looking like the city in terms of demographics,” Mohamed says. “There was a point in this country where Chinese food was a foreign concept. ... Or Indian food. Now, there are Indian restaurants all over the place. Eventually, we would like Somali food to be like that ... synonymous with Columbus, synonymous with America.” He pauses, laughing. “We’re romantics,” he says.