DCentric » Little Ethiopia http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Ethiopian Restaurant Finds Success In Going ‘American’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/ethiopian-restaurant-finds-success-in-going-american/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/ethiopian-restaurant-finds-success-in-going-american/#comments Fri, 04 May 2012 17:15:01 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15927 Continue reading ]]>

LollyKnit / Flickr

Restaurants around D.C.’s unofficial “Little Ethiopia” have been experimenting lately, hosting everything from rock bands and comedy nights, to serving macaroni and cheese instead of injera and tibs. It’s all been part of an effort to stay competitive and alive in the midst of a struggling economy.

So, is it working? Maybe so, at least for Queen Makeda. The restaurant switched over to American fare and has been holding hip hop nights and hosting bands. It’s been so successful that the restaurant now needs more space. This weekend will be Queen Makeda’s last night at 1917 9th St. NW. The restaurant is closing with plans to reopen in a bigger space in the neighborhood.

“There’s definitely a niche in D.C. for what we do,” said Queen Makeda bartender Jeremy Quarless-Cole. “You have to [change] in that area, simply because there are so many Habesha restaurants serving the same food.”

Perhaps there’s still a healthy market for Ethiopian food in D.C. Just not when it’s all concentrated within a few blocks.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/ethiopian-restaurant-finds-success-in-going-american/feed/ 2
Ethiopian Restaurant Converts to ‘American’ Fare http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/08/ethiopian-restaurant-converts-to-american-fare/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/08/ethiopian-restaurant-converts-to-american-fare/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2011 17:05:50 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=9699 Continue reading ]]>

avry / Flickr

Is Ethiopian food slowly disappearing along U Street?

Ethiopian restaurant Almaz is undergoing a renovation and will reopen in a few weeks with a new menu of “American” fare, reports Prince of Petworth.

The U Street restaurant is joining other Habesha eateries in “Little Ethiopia” that have repositioned themselves in an increasingly difficult market. The recession and the concentration of so many Ethiopian restaurants in such a small area has led other owners to also convert their menus, such as Queen Makeda. Other restaurants are opening their doors to new kinds of clientele and uses, including rock concerts. Almaz itself participated in a recent rock festival that brought country and western music to the U Street restaurant.


http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/08/ethiopian-restaurant-converts-to-american-fare/feed/ 0
Why Rock Bands are Playing D.C.’s Ethiopian Restaurants http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/why-rock-bands-are-playing-d-c-s-ethiopian-restaurants/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/why-rock-bands-are-playing-d-c-s-ethiopian-restaurants/#comments Tue, 07 Jun 2011 18:55:04 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=7733 Continue reading ]]>

Courtesy of Bora Chung

Brian Waitzman plays with pop-Americana singer Flo Anito at Almaz on Sunday. An Ethiopian flag hangs behind him.

On Sunday afternoon, Ethiopian music blared from speakers in the first floor dining room of 1920, a Habesha restaurant in the heart of Little Ethiopia. But the sound of a woman crooning in Amharic was overpowered by Bake Sale, a post-pop rock band playing on the second floor.

All up and down the U Street Corridor this past weekend, bands representing an eclectic range of rock music played in Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants as part of the first Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival. Six Habesha-owned or themed restaurants took part.

Organizer Dave Mann said when he first hatched the idea to hold a two-day rock music festival, he asked the city’s more traditional rock venues to host shows, “but they weren’t into it.” Some already had booked calendars and this was the first STPP festival, so it was uncertain how much revenue it’d bring in.

Then Mann met Mike Naizghi, the Eritrean owner of Bella Café, who was looking for music to fill the second-floor of his café that serves American and Eritrean fare. He then introduced Mann to more Little Ethiopia restaurant owners, and soon six were on board. The restaurants made money through drink and food sales, the bands made money through merchandise sales and all shows were free. Mann brought more than 100 bands to the restaurants and he plans to hold a bigger festival in October.

“The consensus of all of the owners of the Ethiopian restaurants is, they say to me, ‘Look, there are tons of Ethiopian places in D.C., so obviously a lot of them aren’t going to have the same amount of business as the others. We need a different clientele,’” Mann said.

The festival kicked off just after news broke Friday that no charges would be filed in the death of Ali Ahmed Mohammed, which had initially been linked to rock club DC9 employees and sparked outraged among the Ethiopian community. While there is a considerable amount of pain and confusion in Little Ethiopia over the case, there wasn’t much resentment and anger to be found over the weekend. Concertgoers milled in and out of venues as bartenders were kept busy serving drinks.

Mann said no one brought up Mohammed’s death as he booked acts in the restaurants. And the festival’s aim wasn’t to focus on or ease any such tensions. “It’s about bringing the D.C. music community together,” he said.

Dave Mann performs with his band Mittenfields at Ghion on Saturday night. Mann brought a wide range of rock acts to D.C., including folk, post-pop rock and hardcore. Enoch Mihrataep takes a drink order from Josh Chapman at Ghion on Sunday while The Collaters played upstairs. Chalking along 9th Street, NW advertised the Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival this weekend. Concertgoers went from venue to venue to catch rock acts. Concertgoers filled Bella Cafe, an Eritrean restaurant, to watch rock band Hiding Places perform on Sunday. Ghion was one of six restaurants in Little Ethiopia that hosted rock acts over the weekend. Maaite Abraham serves a drink to Caroline North at Bella Cafe on Sunday. Owner Mike Naizghi said sales increased by at least 35 percent over the weekend. Brian Waitzman plays with pop-Americana singer Flo Anito at Almaz on Sunday. An Ethiopian flag hangs behind him. Aaron Lim stands outside of Ghion on Saturday night as rock shows took place inside. The Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival brought more than 100 bands to Little Ethiopia.

Naizghi spoke over the loud music playing at Bella on Sunday, saying he’s seen at least a 35 percent increase in sales thus far.

“It’s slow, but we’re trying to pick it up. At least this is going to pick up business,” he said. “We tried to make new business. So far it’s going OK. It’s the first time.”

Craig Keenan of D.C. came to Bella to support local bands, and he said the idea of the festival taking places in local Habesha restaurants “is awesome.”

“It’s in all of these neighborhood places,” he said. “I’ve been here once but knowing they have music, I’ll probably come back.”

Julia Eiferman had been to Bella once before, but said she probably wouldn’t have come back if it weren’t for the music festival.

“[D.C.'s rock clubs] get a lot of national acts, but they don’t get as many indie acts,” Eiferman said.

Andrew Laurence, president of the Ethiopian-American Cultural Center, has noticed many restaurants have renovated or added additional floors in order to host shows and private parties to help make ends meet. The revered Dukem, for instance, just opened a second-floor VIP lounge.

A few blocks away from Bella, Charlie Harrison Band bass guitarist Justin Cohen just finished up a gig at Almaz. He sat with friends, eating injera and vegetables and drinking Ethiopian beer. Cohen said that on his way to the show, he had thought how interesting it was the he was going to play country and Western music in an Ethiopian restaurant.

Stephen Carleton of Denver came to watch Cohen play in what was his first visit to an Ethiopian restaurant. Attracting such first-timers is what many of these restaurant proprietors are aiming to do. But some are slowly drifting away from serving Ethiopian cuisine altogether in an effort to be competitive.

Reggie Eliacin and his girlfriend recently bought Queen Makeda, which was once an Ethiopian restaurant on 9th Street, NW. They hosted shows during the music festival, and had hip-hop DJs and other bands in the past.

“There are so many Ethiopian restaurants here. We are going to do something a little different,” Eliacin said. “[Ours] is more like a bar. We don’t even serve Ethiopian food anymore.”

Eliacin said hosting new types of music can be good for other restaurants in the neighborhood.

“The diversity is important to just get exposure to their restaurants. Some people maybe never thought of coming into the area or a restaurant now have an opportunity to come in,” he said. “I always say, if you’re open to different ideas, it gets the name out there, and I think it’s better even for this sort of community.”

Laurence, considered Little Ethiopia’s unofficial historian, has mixed feelings. He welcomes any way to keep these restaurants alive.

“I love the fact that all these people are coming down for the first time. It is a way of marketing, of Ethiopia opening arms to the whole world,” Laurence said. “The diversity of America is a two-way street. Maybe this is what we should be aiming for. This whole U Street is happening because of this kind of energy.”

But Laurence also said it does take away a bit from the idea of a true “Little Ethiopia.”

Ideally, he’d also like to to see young professional Ethiopians also host their parties and events in Little Ethiopia’s restaurants, rather than go downtown to upscale clubs like The Park.

“After 10 [p.m.], if I come down here on a Friday or Saturday night, you don’t have the sense of Little Ethiopia. So that is sad,” he said. “It does, to me, take away somewhat from the block and the whole feeling, the smells, the tastes… It does detract somewhat of the ultimate dream, the fantasy. But on the other hand, this is a whole other fantasy that I’m beginning to appreciate.”

STPP festival was just hours away from wrapping up on Sunday night, with the sounds of hardcore rock still filling the air along 9th Street. But the smells that filled the air were still of tibs, spiced-lentils and key wot.

Photos courtesy of Bora Chung.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/why-rock-bands-are-playing-d-c-s-ethiopian-restaurants/feed/ 3
DC9 Death Continues to Cause Pain, Confusion http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/dc9-death-continues-to-cause-pain-confusion/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/dc9-death-continues-to-cause-pain-confusion/#comments Fri, 25 Mar 2011 13:31:12 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=4854 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Andrew Bossi

A memorial for Ali Ahmed Mohammed, at the entrance of DC9 on October 24, 2010.

In the early hours of Oct 15, 2010, Ali Ahmed Mohammed tried to enter DC9, a local nightclub located on a block unofficially known as “Little Ethiopia“. When he was denied entry, he picked up a brick and hurled it through the club’s window.

In response, five of the club’s employees chased Mohammed and, depending on which version of events you believe, either beat him to death or roughly restrained him, triggering a cardiac arrest.

After a witness reportedly claimed to have seen DC9′s employees attack Mohammed, Cathy Lanier, D.C.’s Chief of Police, characterized the situation as “vigilante justice“. The five employees from DC9 were arrested on murder charges that were eventually dropped. Mohammed’s death was ruled a homicide.

The story seemed to polarize parts of the city, with fans of the nightclub expressing support for DC9 and its employees while the city’s prominent Ethiopian community decried the attack on one of their own. Even today, five months after Mohammed’s death, some Ethiopian Americans are hurt and confused.

News of the controversy has spread as far as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, where Abubeker Mohammed, a 29-year old D.C. cab driver with no relation to the man who died, was visiting when he first heard about it.

Mohammed said if the situation were reversed– if the club’s employees were Ethiopian and the man who died was white– then it “would be news all over the U.S. They’d never let them out of jail. Unfortunately, the guy who died was an immigrant. Ethiopian, black, Muslim…he had everything possible going against him.”

Hemen Solomon, a woman who lives in Columbia Heights added, “It breaks my heart that there’s no justice. Who can we turn to?…You struggle to make it here, to have a better life, and all you have is a dead body to take back to where we come from.”

A friend who knew Mohammed said that he would stand up for himself if needed, but was otherwise “harmless”.

“He was a friendly guy…Unless someone else provoked him, he wouldn’t start anything,” said Bekalu Biable, a local promoter and graduate student. “His family wants closure…If somebody killed him, we need justice.”

Some were shocked by the news that the city’s chief medical examiner reported that there was no visible trauma to Ali Ahmed Mohammed’s body.

“Remember?,” Solomon asks. “There was blood, there were witnesses? How about that? And the Police Chief herself said they beat him up?…It used to be in the local media, too. I don’t understand why we didn’t hear more.”

Bill Spieler is one of the co-owners of DC9. He was also one of the five people who were initially arrested for Mohammed’s death. Spieler said city officials should provide people with more information.

“I think parts of the community are a little confused about how things have gone because no one has told them otherwise…No public official has stepped up to the plate to explain things, either, whereas in the beginning, they had no problem coming out and saying something.”

The case is being “actively investigated” in conjunction with the US Attorney’s Office, said Police Chief Cathy Lanier, in a statement.

“Now that a final ruling has been issued by the Medical Examiner’s Office, the investigation into this crime can move forward with the goal of bringing the party or parties responsible to justice,” she wrote.

The US Attorney’s Office declined to comment.

As for Mohammed’s family members, they are “disappointed, but still optimistic,” said Andrew Laurence, a local community organizer and family spokesperson.

Laurence said that many Ethiopians immigrated to “escape political oppression, or violence from the police and military.”

“They left a police state, got amnesty here, and thought that they were coming to the land of justice. Now they worry that they can’t get justice here, so where can they get it?”

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/dc9-death-continues-to-cause-pain-confusion/feed/ 4
The City Paper’s Profile of Ali Ahmed Mohammed http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/the-city-papers-profile-of-ali-ahmed-mohammed/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/the-city-papers-profile-of-ali-ahmed-mohammed/#comments Thu, 03 Feb 2011 23:45:20 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3981 Continue reading ]]> Ali Ahmed Mohammed stopped existing on October 15. I use that odd phrasing because of something striking I have noticed– white people tend to say “he died”, while Black people use words like “he was killed”. Almost four months after a death which is still shrouded in mystery, the City Paper’s feature, “Something Happened at DC9. Who Did it Happen to?” doesn’t provide any additional information to those of us who wonder how Mohammed died or why.

So this is what the piece does do; it humanizes Mohammed while providing details about a man who has either been vilified or martyred, depending on whom you ask. This is what it does not do: assign blame. Maybe we’ll never know what happened, but if you are interested in one of the city’s most prominent immigrant communities, the article is worth a read:

One thing to know about Little Ethiopia: It’s not little. Decade-old census figures place the number of Ethiopians in the region at about 30,000, but community members suspect the real number is considerably higher—at least 100,000. It’s the largest Ethiopian community outside Ethiopia, says Andrew Laurence , president of the Ethiopian-American Cultural Center and the neighborhood’s unofficial historian.

Like the demographic that congregates there, Little Ethiopia has been growing. Today, Laurence says, it encompasses a “traditional border of 18th Street in Adams Morgan from Columbia Road to Florida Avenue over to 9th Street along Florida (U Street) to 9th Street and then down 9th Street to Q Street and over to 7th and Q Street.” Of course, Ethiopians aren’t the only ones who flock to the 1900 block of 9th Street NW. DC9, with its appeal to white hipsters, and Nellie’s, a gay sports bar on the corner, reflect two other populations with a growing presence in the neighborhood.

Laurence says D.C. became a hub for Ethiopian immigrants starting in the 1970s, “when Haile Selassie was overthrown.” The Marxist military regime that took over began killing off elites and intellectuals, Laurence says. Many fled to America, which had supported the deposed monarchy. The immigrant population was initially centered in Adams Morgan, near the former home of the Ethiopian embassy.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/the-city-papers-profile-of-ali-ahmed-mohammed/feed/ 3
It’s easy to be a critic, when English is your first language. http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/its-easy-to-be-a-critic-when-english-is-your-first-language/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/its-easy-to-be-a-critic-when-english-is-your-first-language/#comments Tue, 09 Nov 2010 19:11:45 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=1938 Continue reading ]]>

Santa Fe Nachos, Dos Coyotes, Davis, California

One of the things I miss most about Northern California is the Southwestern restaurant, Dos Coyotes. Please note: I did not say “Mexican” food. I fully admit I want some sort of “inauthentic” dish which contains spicy salsa, black beans and an obscene amount of cheese. That’s a pretty basic want, but it’s difficult to fulfill here in D.C. When I worked near K Street, I’d go to Pedro and Vinnie’s burrito cart and 80% of the time, I’d be satisfied; unfortunately, it’s not open for dinner or on the weekends. So I often end up at…Chipotle. I know. It’s not real, ethnic food. I know.

But it’s spicy and across from my house, so I go. When I do, the staff switches to Spanish while asking for my order. Years ago, I was fluent in it, so my accent is decent and I can bust out these impressive sentences every so often…but I’m much more likely to be left staring at the ceiling, agonizing over a verb I can’t remember. The 14th Street crew doesn’t mind this, in fact they exhort me to keep practicing. I do, because it’s kind of them to help me, but also because it is a potent reminder of how privileged I am.

I speak English.

It’s not my first language, but I speak it as if it were and I don’t take that for granted. When some dolt on the street compliments me by telling me something like, “You’re Indian? You speak good English for an immigrant!”,  I smile a wan smile and reply that I was born to immigrant parents in California, where English is often spoken.

It’s easy to forget how difficult English is to learn, because we all take it for granted. We’re here. But for people in other nations, English is a puzzle. The pronunciation of the word “cough” makes no sense. As a teen, I used to preen and smirk at my ability to pick up French and Spanish rapidly– until my Father gruffly pointed out that they’re both romance languages and much easier to learn than English, something he studied for his entire childhood, in India.

My parents both studied at English-medium schools in India, so when they came to this country forty years ago, they were each fluent in the language and better prepared to communicate in it than other immigrants were. Recently though, and I’ve noticed this increasing as she ages, my Mother will enclose notes with packages from home that make my heart stop, because of how sweet they are– and because of how protective I feel of her, upon reading them: “Saw this when I was wondering thru the Mall and knew you’d like it, love you Mommy.”

Seven years ago, when I kept a visual diary via my photo blog, I would’ve taken a picture of the open package and all of the goodies it contained– but I would have hesitated to include the note. I wouldn’t want someone to make fun of my Mother and it’s not like she meant for the words she wrote in her beautiful, looping handwriting to be put on blast. But I’d always feel a twinge of worry– was I ashamed of who my Mother was? What was more appropriate and less self-serving? To be proud of all she had accomplished in this strange land, where she lacked family, friends and even a proper winter coat for a brutal Oklahoma winter in 1973, typos be damned? Or to privately feel my heart swell at her kindness while protecting her from scrutiny?

I thought of all of these things a few minutes ago, while reading this post at Prince of Petworth. PoP regularly investigates new restaurant openings, taking pictures and offering details about what to expect on the menu. This time, he was exploring what had happened to the space which once housed the popular Vegetate, in Shaw. It is now Cafe Eagle, and its menu is almost entirely Italian, with one Eritrean dish, too.

The menu is simple, probably printed late-night at Kinko’s, on blue paper. It is notable not for its offerings, but the misspellings which PoP’s commenters immediately noticed:

Prince of Petworth

Said another commenter, "Paper sauce. Huh?"

My initial reaction was to feel a surge of sadness and defensiveness on behalf of the hopeful proprietors of this space, whom PoP had called “super kind and quite enthusiastic”; I could picture them reading the post, their faces falling as they scrolled down. Then I remembered the irritation I feel when I go to an Indian restaurant and see typos, and how I’m always tempted to offer free proofreading services, but end up smiling and saying nothing. “Why can’t they proof these things?”, I mutter to myself, as I concomitantly feel concerned that others will hold mistaken letters or poor punctuation against them.  Just like those commenters did. Pasto with paper sauce. Obviously, they meant “pasta with pepper sauce”.

I know, it’s a tiny thing to think about, and these anonymous commenters on another blog are irrelevant and just killing time at their desks, not conspiring to harm others. But I can’t help but think about it. I know something about people with brown skin, who sacrifice everything to come to a city like this, and work so hard to offer something of value to those who would snicker and point out their flaws, all the while ignoring their gifts.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/11/its-easy-to-be-a-critic-when-english-is-your-first-language/feed/ 7
Who doesn’t love coffee? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/09/who-doesnt-love-coffee/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/09/who-doesnt-love-coffee/#comments Wed, 15 Sep 2010 16:35:45 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=760 Continue reading ]]>

sean dreilinger

Ethiopian coffee beans. Yum.

Right after I mentioned D.C.’s Ethiopian community in an earlier post, someone sent me information (thank you!) about this neat opportunity to learn more about what may be America’s favorite Ethiopian product– coffee. The D.C. Public Library (West End branch) will be hosting a Coffee Ceremony this Saturday, from 10am until Noon:

The coffee ceremony is a tradition in Ethiopia, an East African country that is home of some of the world’s best coffee. Come see the beans being prepared, breathe in the aroma and savor free samples.

A narrator in traditional costume will explain the ceremony, as others demonstrate it and serve the brew. Enjoy coffee as you’ve never had it before, and learn about Ethiopian culture, too. Please join us, and bring your family and friends.

The D.C. area has 350,000 Ethiopian-Americans– far more than any other city in the country. They help put the “diverse” in D.C. One of my favorite things about this amazing place is the number of free cultural events that are available to enrich our lives, no matter our means. Please, feel free to send me information about similar events in the future.

http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/09/who-doesnt-love-coffee/feed/ 0