Casablanca Restaurant and Sports Bar, located at the corner plot of Andrew Uchendu Crescent and Abacha Road in GRA, is one of the success stories of the Port Harcourt dream.
Many years ago, the Abacha Road axis of GRA was at best a water-logged dump; unattractive, desolate with absolutely no serious business situated there. It was a fringe area that attracted no attention from anybody, except for scavengers and squatters.
I remember meeting a young, hardworking and determined lady then, who saw the future. She took me to this desolate corner at the fringes of GRA and expressed her intention to turn this water-logged slum into a thriving hospitality Restaurant.
I was impressed by her attitude. As an Architect, I saw the potentials and viability of the location, and also saw the challenges as that part of GRA was largely undeveloped. My thoughts went to the obvious cost of filling up the plot first.
With no funding support from our financial institutions, this amazing lady turned a growing slum at the edge of GRA into the hospitality destination of Port Harcourt. The Casablanca Restaurant and Sports Bar became a global name, and synonymous with the Port Harcourt hospitality sector. The restaurant featured some of the best Rivers, and Nigerian dishes, together with Hispanic and Continental cuisines that attracted the creme of the PH expat community.
The Sports Bar was the place to be to watch all the great football games across the world.
The Casablanca Restaurant and Sports Bar story was of a fairy tale dimension. The tourism industry of Rivers State was given a second shot at getting to its highest potential. This lady had achieved what others would see as impossible; she only saw opportunity and progress.
Traveling to other great cities across the world (London, New York, Paris, Houston, Amsterdam), once you mention Port Harcourt, your hosts and friends will ask you about Casablanca Restaurant, wanting and wishing to visit there if and wherever they are in Port Harcourt. It was that popular!
Unfortunately, the Casablanca success story also quickly attracted other “wannabes” in her neighbourhood. A Car Wash sprung up opposite (eventually becoming a Bar), and other commercial developments (Supermarts, Wine Shops, etc) that all eventually metamorphosed into different types of Bars and Clubs. Of course the women of easy virtue, who saw the potentials of making easy money from patrons, flocked the area turning it into a Red Light zone.
All these were happening outside! Casablanca Restaurant and Sports Bar continued to operate under this new conditions that were obviously beyond her control (as she can only control what happens within her grounds).
I’m sure that the management of Casablanca Restaurant are happy that Government has finally clamped down on the nefarious activities that are going on outside her property. It is indeed long overdue. It is however most unkind when uninformed individuals directly call out this ingenious business entity for issues she has nothing to do with. The prostitution industry in the Sani Abacha axis of GRA has nothing to do with this Restaurant and Sports Bar. She neither promotes it, or encourages it. The business has no power to arrest or enforce a “no prostitution” order outside her premises, as with any other businesses. It is therefore important to properly situate the facts and the narrative accordingly. Those maligning the Casablanca Restaurant trade name are apparently most ignorant and uninformed; with some obviously malicious and envious.
Today, I salute the resilience of Mercy Asimietamunopribia Castillo, the driver of this “Port Harcourt dream” for her achievement in revitalizing the Port Harcourt hospitality landscape when it was at its lowest ebbs. I praise her for her vision and encourage her not to give up.
Let the government carry out her enforcement and sanitization duties of driving out vices. It is important to also continue to encourage enterprise, especially the hospitality industry that is arguably one of Port Harcourt’s biggest contributors to her GDP. We must never throw away the baby with the bathwater. This icon of this famous city should be allowed to thrive in what will be an even better environment. The future is indeed bright for Port Harcourt (and Casablanca Restaurant and Sports Bar).
Written by Asomba Egbuonu