Updated

Casablanca and Washington remember Kathy Kriger — Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)

kathykriger

Kathy Kriger, owner and founder of Rick’s Café Photo: Ksenia Kuleshova/The New York Times 

Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)
August 1, 2018

ED official photo - smallThis week our colleague and beloved friend Kathy Kriger passed away unexpectedly in Casablanca, Morocco.  Many people knew her as the owner and proprietor of Rick’s Café, modeled after the fictional café from the movie Casablanca, with its beautifully decorated interior designed by the famous Bill Willis.  Her death stunned many in Morocco and those of us who knew and worked with her.

Kathy was the US Commercial Attaché during most of my term as US Ambassador to Morocco from 1997 to 2001. She was a wonderfully energetic and dedicated Embassy colleague.  But she was above all a born entrepreneur, and in 2002 she bravely left her safe job with the US government to settle permanently in Casablanca and start her own business, as a foreigner and a woman.  She began by selling her house in Marrakech, buying a shell of a building in Casablanca, and raising the funds needed to create Rick’s Café, often in $5000 increments, from a circle of friends and acquaintances who believed in her and her project.  She named this worthy and farsighted group “the usual suspects.”

A book she wrote on her experience describes in fascinating detail the many challenges she had to overcome, as well as the timely support she won from key Moroccan allies, on the way to opening the doors of Rick’s Café on March 1, 2004.  Under Kathy’s management, it became a huge success.  Rick’s is now the second largest tourist attraction in Casablanca, after the famous and grand Hassan II mosque.

A key triumph early on was to recruit her friend, Bill Willis to design the restaurant.  Bill Willis was among the most famous Americans to live in Morocco.  The Wall Street Journal called him the “Magician from Memphis”, as he revived the skills of the ancient Moroccan artisans, including the art of applying tadelakt to Moroccan interior walls and turned many expat homes into glorious palaces, including Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s Villa Oasis, with craftsmanship that was on its way to extinction before he arrived in Marrakech.  Rick’s Cafe is a thing of beauty.

Like any start up restaurant, Rick’s was a gamble.  I like to think that Kathy made this gamble in the spirit of our work together at the US Embassy, which included a “reverse trade mission” to take selected Moroccan projects to the US in the hope of finding investors.  We carefully examined the feasibility of fast food chains, fish packing enterprises and other projects, including the Rick’s Cafe idea, that would add to the development goals of Morocco and create a market for American goods and investment as well.

Kathy, Richard Johnson, the US Economic Counselor, and I firmly believed, in the face of bureaucratic opposition, that it was important to build a strong US-Morocco bilateral relationship, which balanced our support for selling US goods to Morocco, with a like interest to bring US investment to the country as well.  We succeeded in implementing this reverse trade mission, with Kathy spearheading our work.

When Kathy later left government service to launch her Rick’s Café project, she was in effect practicing what she had been preaching.

Kathy died making her mark as one of our famous US icons living in Morocco, along with Bill Willis, Paul Bowles, Joe McPhillips and many others who will go down in history as Americans who brought the best America has to offer to Morocco.  Rest in peace my friend.

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