Where can you get the best baked bread, croissant and sandwiches in New York City? Up in Harlem, at a Senegalese-owned bakery called Les Ambassades, more than one food critic, including those at New York Magazine and the New York Times, have declared.
Following his success with the bakery, owner Gorgui N’doye has just expanded with a larger restaurant next door to his popular, 10-year-old bakery on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. There, like at the bakery, you can not only get pastries but also dishes such as Senegalese favorites including lamb chops and jollof rice with fish and vegetables.
N’doye first moved to Harlem in 1989 to live with his brother who was living in Harlem at the time. “I am one of 9 children (4 girls, 5 boys),” he says. “All of my siblings live in the U.S., Senegal and Europe.” Before opening the bakery, N’doye once served as district owner/manager for the popular Ricky’s drugstore chain in New York. When he sold his portion of the business, he decided to open his Afro-Parisian in Harlem, inspired by the bakery of Dakar. “The cafe initially opened in 2003 and was funded from personal savings with the help of a loan from SBA [Small Business Administration] for 60 percent of the startup costs,” explains N’doye. “The expansion was funded from the revenues of the business.” There is also another bakery/restaurant on Lenox Avenue that he opened in 2012.
And now the new restaurant will continue with the same flavor– Africa with a touch of Paris in Harlem. “The expansion was necessary in order to stay competitive with the businesses that are arriving on Frederick Douglass Blvd also known as ‘Harlem’s Restaurant Row’,” says N’doye. “When Les Ambassades initially opened in 2003, there were very few full-service restaurants in the area (only Moca and Melba’s). Les Ambassades quickly became a favorite of the Little Senegal community (the area defined by 116th Street between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd and Frederick Douglass Blvd). They were also the first to feature outdoor seating in this area.”
According to N’doye, while many long-rooted Harlem businesses worry about the area’s changing demographics and gentrification, he says the shift has been good for business. In fact, it has caused him and other local businesses, he says, to step up their game. “The demographic has had a positive effect on every business and has driven the need to expand,” he notes. “Newcomers force the businesses to upgrade and improve demand for new products and services.”
Although the restaurant business is one of the toughest of industries, N’doye doesn’t seem too worried about the longevity of Les Ambassades. He has major plans for the brand. “You can be successful by improving the menu; keeping the environment as attractive as possible and improving customer service. These are priorities for keeping customers coming in,” he says. “The long-term goal is to open more restaurants around Manhattan; a third restaurant in Harlem is planned for later this year.”