Heart of the business Restaurant, bar
Vendodhja Shko te harta
By car, the restaurant is right by the national road (SH72) that passes through Poshnje, to the northeast of Ura Vajgurore and Berat.
Currently 8 renovated rooms, soon to be brought to 35.
What to do
Enjoy a great meal with fresh ingredients.
The restaurant of Tomorr Ismailaj and his brothers lies right by national road SH72 north of Berat, in the village of Poshnje. It’s located just off the recently renovated, flowery village square centered around a giant plane tree as in many southern Albanian villages. Historically this was a place where villagers would gather to sit and talk. The communist-era village shop, the Magazina Populllore (MaPo), common to villages at the time, was once located here, alongside a small bar.
The Ismailaj brothers started off with a bakery that they opened in the early 1990s, one of the first businesses established after the fall of the communist regime. Soon they expanded by producing their own flour, too, and from the flour factory they ventured into agriculture and farming. Eventually the oldest of the four brothers, Gramoz, suggested planting vineyards to produce raki and wine, and while struggling to sell wholesale, they opened a small bar in the former MaPo premises in 1997. Starting off with six tables and capacity for merely 20, the restaurant was enlarged in 2004, and hotel rooms were added in the back of the building in 2015. The business has only diversified from there, and today even the laundry is done by the family itself in the large-scale, family-owned professional laundry service operating behind the restaurant.
The looks of Keshtjella Bar and Restaurant are true to its name (“castle” in Albanian). The restaurant’s architecture alludes to the power and durability of the ancient Illyrian and Roman stone castles built to last. Looking admittedly somewhat out of place in its rather industrial surroundings right by the road, Keshtjella offers large portions of good-quality traditional food at reasonable prices. With its varied menu of fresh roasted meat and traditional breakfast and lunch staples, it is very popular with locals and visitors alike. The restaurant seats up to 700 guests on three floors, in addition to its large wedding hall which is also frequently used for children’s birthday parties and live music. It is run by the three brothers Tomorr, Idajet and Partizan, who each take part in running the business, and about 40 other family members who work as waiting, kitchen, food processing and administrative staff.
The restaurant’s hotel has eight rooms, currently undergoing renovations to bring them up to European standards. The refurbished rooms have a rustic feel, with wood, brick and stone decor, and are equipped with televisions and air conditioning. A new annex will bring the total number of rooms up to 35 within 2020. Furthermore, plans include the creation of a large camping area for up to 150 tents and camper vans in the back of the restaurant.
In addition to the restaurant and hotel, the family owns a large farm about a 5-minute drive to the northeast. The farm is home to 40 cows, 40 calves, and about 80-100 pigs and piglets, including wild boar, taken from the nearby countryside, which are kept in concrete stables with small, rather bleak-looking concrete outdoor enclosures. Ducks, chickens, geese, sheep, goats and a donkey can also be found on the property. The animals here, looked after by four workers, are kept to supply meat and milk to the restaurant. A little further down the dirt road are the farm’s two hectares of greenhouses, where with the help of 15-20 workers, tomatoes are produced for export to central and northern Europe, including Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Russia.
After the September to November harvest season, a second planting season starts in January, when other vegetables like lettuce, aubergines, cucumbers and peppers are grown here. The family’s vineyards and olive groves that supply the raw materials for the olive oil, wine and raki that the Ismailaj family produces are located further away and are not easy to visit. As the farm is hard to reach for guests, Tomorr is arranging 20 bicycles for rent, which patrons can use to explore the surrounding areas, including potentially even trips to Berat, the UNESCO “city of a thousand windows” heritage site with its well-preserved Ottoman-style architecture and ancient castle neighbourhood that is not to be missed.
Though Keshtjella is more of a model of a successful high-volume agribusiness than of romantic and quiet rural life, the industrious owners have put in great efforts to create a place to enjoy good and honest food. It is to be seen whether they will manage in the future to also create a memorable experience for visitors, for whom the notion of agritourism might be associated with more intimate interactions and a tranquil, relaxing setting.