Somerville’s Moroccan Hospitality couldn’t survive the pandemic

By Julia Taliesin, Wicked Local, November 18, 2020

Moroccan Hospitality, a family-owned restaurant specializing in North African fare, has closed after nine years.
One of Moroccan Hospitality's popular chicken dishes.
One of Moroccan Hospitality’s popular chicken dishes.

In 2021, sisters Amina and Nouzha Ghallay would have celebrated a decade of serving authentic cuisine at their restaurant, Moroccan Hospitality.

Though they started off the year strong, they couldn’t recover from the staggering business losses brought on by the pandemic, and in October they closed for good.

“Some businesses – they did OK with COVID, but for some it was really bad,” said Nouzha Ghallay. “We are one of them. It’s so sad.”

The sisters opened Moroccan Hospitality in Malden in 2011, and moved to Somerville in 2014 after noticing they had a lot of customers coming from Cambridge and Somerville.

Sisters Amina (L) and Nouzha (R) Ghallay of Moroccan Hospitality.
Sisters Amina (L) and Nouzha (R) Ghallay of Moroccan Hospitality.

Ghallay said business was steady – a little quieter in the summer and always busy in the winter – and they were always catering events for area universities, weddings and parties. It was the same this year.

“Before COVID, it was crazy busy,” she said. “In March, we had all these reservations, but as soon as COVID hit us, people started canceling them. After March, the business was going down, down, down – sinking little by little – and we never recovered from that.”

Moroccan Hospitality's cozy space on Somerville Avenue.
Moroccan Hospitality’s cozy space on Somerville Avenue.

Offering take-out service just wasn’t good enough, and completely losing catering jobs was devastating, Ghallay said.

“We had no customers for days – nothing,” she said. “You can tell if you have no customers in a week, and you throw food away, you could tell that was it. We knew that was the end, and we tried hard to keep it up, but there was no way we could save the business.”

This 'open for takeout' sign from July was one of Moroccan Hospitality's last posts before closing.
This ‘open for takeout’ sign from July was one of Moroccan Hospitality’s last posts before closing.

They also experience challenges with their landlord, who Ghallay said consistently raised rents and didn’t extend any flexibility when they struggled to pay rent during the pandemic.

When the sisters shared the news on Facebook the evening of Oct. 19, Ghallay said she almost cried.

“It was hard to post it,” she said. “To my sister and me, it’s like – you had a kid and you lost a kid. We don’t have kids, and we call it our baby.”

Ghallay said she still receives messages from customers missing their food and asking whether the sisters will reopen somewhere else.

“If I had the money, I would reopen again, but I don’t’ have the money,” she said. “If we’re going to try to reopen, we need money, so for now we’re going to look for jobs and move on.”

Ghallay misses cooking her favorite chicken and lamb dishes – especially couscous, which she said she could eat every day – and chatting with the people who came in.

“American people who traveled to Morocco would come back and come looking for us,” she said. “We are the only Moroccan restaurant in the area with food cooked from scratch, just like it is back in Morocco. Everything was made from scratch. It was hard, but it was good.”

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