After putting in a hard day’s work, Ahmed Hashem, 29, an Egyptian businessman living in eastern Cairo, loves to have dinner with his friends at the Garemt Akl (Crime of Eating) restaurant on Makram Ebeid Street in Nasr city, a district in the eastern part of the capital.
The restaurant, which opened earlier this year, is designed to look like a prison. The menu lists “provisions” and the bill is called “bail.” A “release” sign is placed on top of the door, for customers to see on their way out. Part of the restaurant is decorated with chains and handcuffs, while another wall is filled with ironic quotes about life in prison.
Hashem told Al-Monitor that the restaurant’s name and slogan caught his attention when he drove past it with a friend. They stopped and went inside. They were very impressed with the idea and decor, and once they tried the food they knew they would be coming back. Hashem loved the jailhouse humor in the menu and the slogans on the walls.
“Other restaurants are not as interesting as this place. I prefer it here because the concept is original,” he said, adding that he is always on the lookout for new restaurants.
Located on the ground floor of a building that overlooks the main street, the restaurant boasts an immersive prison ambiance. Food is served on metal trays, while customers sit at wooden tables with metal buckets underneath to use as trash cans.
Ahmad Hamad, one of the restaurant’s four owners, told Al-Monitor, “My partners and I wanted to start something new and interesting. We kept searching until we came up with the name of our restaurant. We made the place to look like a prison.”
Although they have never been in prison, the owners based their realistic designs on films, books and YouTube videos.
“At first people found our idea a bit odd, but once they entered the restaurant, tasted our meals and took photos of the decor, they liked it,” Hamad said.
Meals are named according to the number of sandwiches served. For instance, a meal of six sandwiches is known as "the life sentence," which is normally 25 years in prison under Egyptian law, and the nine sandwiches are known as "the death sentence."
“We serve fattening meals," Hamad said. "That’s why eating here is a crime. The more sandwiches you eat, the more you will have to stay here to rest afterward. This is why the meals are named after the life and death sentences.”
He added, “My partners and I have never worked in the restaurant business. We each have our own business, but we decided to go for this project to provide an additional income. It took us about two months to launch this place."
He was reluctant to talk about its costs. "We are happy of what we have achieved regardless," he said. "We are very pleased with the people’s reactions, especially since some are saying our restaurant is the first of its kind in the Middle East.”
He also denied rumors about them stealing the idea from elsewhere, saying, “We never knew it existed before and we never thought about the possibility of another restaurant with the same concept. We simply thought of the idea and executed it. We like it, our customers like it and we did not have any trouble obtaining the required documents and permits.”