The Ethiopian Easter Holiday, Fasika, is celebrated with feasts after a 55-day fasting period by the faithful who avoid meat and other animal products in their diets. Relatives and friends meet for the feast, with those visiting bringing along cakes and sweets to add to the festivities. High-end hotels and neighbourhood bakeries enjoy a hike in business during this week, and special orders for holiday cakes fetch upwards of 500 Br a kilogram, reports NOEL MINWAGAW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Ferdinand Akakpo, a chef from Benin, came to Ethiopia in 2015 to join the new staff of Golden Tulip Addis Ababa Hotel, one of seven international franchise hotels in the capital.
Ferdinand, the hotel's pastry executive, is behind the holiday-themed cakes that are being offered this Ethiopian Easter Holiday, a celebration of a 55-day fast-breaking festival, colloquially known as Abiy Tsome.
Leading a staff of five at his pastry department at Golden Tulip, which sits on Cameroon Street in the heart of Bole District, Ferdinand has prepared a special holiday cake with chocolate toppings influenced by European tradition that is offered at 500 Br a kilogram.
But this price can go up depending on the complexity of the designs and the ingredients used in the making of the cakes, according to Hiwot Teffera, general manager of the hotel.
The hotel has been offering cakes for major holidays since it opened its doors, and the Easter holiday is one of the busiest.
"I think this is because many people have stayed away from cakes for almost two months," said Hiwot.
During last year's Easter holiday, the hotel sold 165 cakes, which was a 60pc increase in sales compared to the regular season. In addition, the staff of the hotel bought more than 70 cakes.
In past years, the hotel has not been advertising its holiday cakes, but this holiday Golden Tulip has aggressively pushed its offerings in print and social media.
"We expect a larger sales volume this year as a result of our efforts," Hiwot told Fortune.
Expecting large orders this time, the hotel has prepared the cakes ahead of time and kept them in a freezer, according to Akakpo.
"We will only add the final decorations on the cakes as the orders arrive," Akakpo said.
Costumers order the cakes for home consumption and as gifts for family and friends.
Chicken Stew (Doro Wot) is the traditional Easter meal most associated with the holiday, and relatives arrive for the meal carrying cakes and sweets.
The week that follows the Easter celebration is a time of visiting and gifting between families and friends. The week, Dagmay Tinsae, is a holiday that marks the ascension of Jesus to heaven, according to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Diamond Hotel, a new facility that opened its doors a year ago, is one of the hotels that is preparing and expecting to fill a high demand for cakes during Dagmay Tinsae.
"Customers start to place orders starting on the eve of Easter and keep going at least until Dagmay Tinsae," says Tewedaj Assefa, sales and marketing manager at Diamond, a sister company of Caramel Pastry, another establishment known for the supply of cakes.
Caramel Pastry, which has a branch in Piassa on Adwa Street and one on the ground floor of Diamond Hotel, offers various cakes for this holiday.
"Dagmay Tinsaeis actually when we get the highest number of orders," Tewedaj adds.
Diamond sells a kilogram of cake for 550 Br and the price can go up to 1,000 Br a kilogram for special orders with unique designs and decoration.
The pastry market in the city has been growing in recent years, and Enrico Pastry, located on General Wingate Street in Piassa, is one of the old pastry shops in the city that has observed the changes.
In the capital, there are over 3,200 bakery businesses registered at the Ministry of Trade & Industry that make various breads, cakes, biscuits and injera.
Yet the pastry industry has faced the same problems for years - electric power supply interruptions, water shortages, shortages of raw materials, not meeting schedules for customer deliveries and quality, according to Tesfaye Gezahegn, afternoon supervisor of Occasion Pastry & Cakes in front of Medhane-Alem Cathedral Church on Cameroon Street in Bole District.
"We use imported ingredients, but we are sometimes forced to buy from the local suppliers at a higher price to keep our customers and their trust," Tesfaye said.
During the holidays, Occasion Pastry & Cakes hires more chefs to meet the growing demand. On casual days, the bakery operates with 20 employees, one of whom is a full-time pastry chef.
Sofia Alemu, a mother of two in her mid-thirties, is one of the customers of Occasion Pastry, attracted by the unique designs the pastry offers. She orders birthday cakes for her kids with Spiderman and football field designs.
"My children love the taste, but more than that, they love the special designs on the cakes," said Sofia.
Convenience is an issue these businesses need to focus on, according to Henok Abera, an accountant who has experience working with some of the hotels in the capital.
"Many people would love to order and have it delivered, be it cakes, cookies, flowers or gift baskets," he said. "But there is no such service in the country. The businesses are happy with the status quo. If one of them started doing it, it would be a game changer, especially during the holiday seasons because of convenience."
It's not just the big pastry shops and hotels that see a sharp increase in sales during this season. Every café and pastry shop in every corner of the city enjoys some part of the bonanza because nearly everyone takes a cake when visiting a relative.