Bringing West Africa to East Madison: Yul Ouattara’s Africana

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Thousands of miles from home, Yul Ouattara discovered a new appreciation for what he left behind. “In West Africa, people are relaxed and community-oriented,” he says. “Here in the USA, people are much more stressed out.”

Hoping to introduce the relaxed atmosphere of his home country to Madison, Ouattara opened Africana. Yul insists that Africana is much more than a bar and restaurant, it’s an ‘international place for the community to come for healthy food and to relax.”

Yul, an Ivory Coast native, came to the United States as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Steven’s Point to study Computer Information Systems and Business Administration. After graduation, he moved to Madison for a job in information technology at TomoTherapy.

As Yul attended African community events in Madison, he began to notice that there was a lack of both West African cuisine and community meeting spaces where people could feel at home. Yul spent 18 months planning a restaurant to suit both needs. Africana opened on Atwood Avenue in June 2008.

The restaurant’s menu offers typical West African food. The most popular items on the menu are maffe (peanut sauce with chicken, beef, goat, lamb or mushrooms), yassa (grilled chicken marinated in lemon sauce), and alloco (fried plantains). Africana also offers drinks and, on the weekends, a DJ spins a variety of music.

Working toward his dream has been a lot of hard work. “I don’t sleep,” says Yul. ‘There is always some work to do, and even when I lay down at night I am constantly thinking of ways to improve the business.” Since the restaurant opened, Yul has even quit playing soccer, his favorite pastime.

Still, he keeps following his dream. ‘It may not work out 100% but you got to keep doing it,” he says. “Don’t let people distract you from your vision.” Yul can already see his dream unfolding on busy Saturday nights when Africana is filled with international and local clientele laughing at the bar and moving on the dance floor.

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