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Atlanta is known for its rich history and thriving Black business community. However, when the sun goes down, the city comes alive with nightlife as vivacious as its daytime activity. Kofi Maafo and Keith Aweke are two friends who are determined to leave their mark on ATL’s hospitality scene as they prepare to open the second location for their internationally acclaimed restaurant, Bloom Bar.
In 2017, Maafo and Aweke opened Bloom Bar’s first location in Ghana. Since then, the bar has become a social hub for locals in Accra and has gained notoriety for its immersive nightlife experience featuring live music, West African cuisine and a thoughtfully designed venue bathed in radiant hues of light.
After six years of success, the co-founders are now looking to introduce their bar experience to a new audience and solidify Bloom Bar as a global concept possessing as much longevity as their 33-year-long friendship.
From Childhood Friends to Business Partners
Maafo and Aweke first met in Ghana while attending preschool. The 4-year-old boys quickly developed a friendship that would find itself lasting way beyond their formative years. Although the physical distance between them significantly increased during their individual pursuits of higher education, they still managed to remain in close contact.
Aweke moved to New York to fulfill his dream of becoming a mixologist, later graduating from NY Bartending School and the Institute of Culinary Education. Maafo remained in Accra, earning his Executive MBA from the University of Ghana and managing several businesses across the sports, mining and food supply industries.
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“I managed quite a few businesses in Ghana and one of the things I loved the most was making people happy,” says Maafo. “The idea of bringing people into a space and entertaining them made me want to start my own business in the hospitality industry.”
After realizing his epiphany, Maafo decided to bring his vision to fruition by opening a restaurant. He knew Aweke would make the perfect business partner, given his culinary expertise and familiarity with Ghana’s hospitality landscape.
Aweke graciously joined forces with his childhood friend and they began to leverage their decades of collective work, combining Maafo’s knowledge of business operations and Aweke’s passion for conceptualizing food and beverage menus.
Creating the Bloom Bar Experience
“For about a year and a half, we started doing our research and identifying opportunities on how we would develop a bar,” says Maafo. “We realized most bars in Ghana during that time were very VIP-oriented.”
Aweke adds, “We saw that as an opportunity to bring something different and create a space where people didn’t feel like they have to show off to feel included.”
The entrepreneurial duo envisioned a majestic bar experience in Ghana that promised sophistication without sacrificing inclusivity. Adorned with accents of Ghanaian impala lilies and warm lighting, Bloom Bar’s layout was intentionally designed to encourage mingling and create a setting where everyone can feel comfortable and embraced by those surrounding them.
In addition to being known for its ambiance and social atmosphere, Bloom Bar is also infamous for serving elevated West African street food like jollof rice, as well as fusion fare like samosas and spring rolls.
“The beautiful thing about Ghanaian cuisine is its mass fusion of different cultures,” says Aweke. “From Caribbean, Chinese, European and Indian, we basically have a little bit of everything in our street food.”
Bloom Bar has amassed over 40,000 social media followers and is often lauded by locals as an experience waiting to be discovered in the heart of Accra. To date, Bloom Bar has received awards for “Best Nightlife” and “Best Game Changer” from the Guest Experience Masters Awards and was also ranked by Uber as Ghana’s most visited destination in 2021.
Running Bloom Bar hasn’t come without challenges. Despite meticulous planning, Maafo and Aweke have faced the harsh reality of securing investors in the competitive hospitality industry. After dealing with rejections, Maafo recognized the need for a strategic pivot and created BlueChip Hospitality, naming Awake as a founding partner.
The hospitality group allows the two entrepreneurs to offer services to other businesses like food supply chain management, menu curation, staff recruitment, hospitality training and more.
“The challenges along the way gave us the idea to create a hospitality group that embodied Bloom Bar and allowed corporate establishments to not view as just a bar, but a corporate body too,” says Maafo.
From Accra to Atlanta
Fully embracing their successes and hardships, Maafo and Aweke made sure to apply their lessons learned from managing Bloom Bar’s first location to the planning process of opening their second bar.
When deciding on the next location, they sought cities where hospitality was appreciated and increasingly flourishing. Among the top contenders were Atlanta, Houston, New York and Washington, D.C.
“We noticed the trend of major corporations establishing offices in Atlanta,” says Maafo. “It gave us the impression that Atlanta is the emerging market where we needed to be.”
The new location will be nestled in the upscale neighborhood of Buckhead, where Maafo, Aweke and their new business partner, Kwasi Darko Mensah, plan to uphold the same principle of inclusion and belief that everyone deserves the Bloom Bar experience.
“Mensah was the person who played the most essential role in securing the Buckhead location,” says Maafo.
The 2,920-square-foot venue will boast some of the same signature design staples as its sister location in Ghana and will also incorporate local furnishings to create a connection to the resident community.
The Atlanta location will also maintain the tradition of serving West African-inspired dishes, along with new menu specialties like the spicy seafood rice – a dish combining aromatic fried rice with fresh shrimp, tender squid and crunchy grouper fish. Cocktail offerings will pay homage to West Africa and include flagship favorites like the Accra Blues, a blend of fresh pineapple and lemon juice mixed with dark and coconut rums.
Recounting their six-year business journey, Maafo and Aweke are eager to continue the expansion of Bloom Bar and consider Atlanta’s new location to be the first of many more to come.
“It’s amazing to be here in the States,” says Maafo. “To be able to elevate a brand from West Africa and move it to the big leagues is what people dream about.”
Maafo and Aweke will host a soft opening in February 2024 at Bloom Bar’s Atlanta venue, located at 3195 Roswell Road NE. The doors will officially open to the public in March 2024.