BACK TO BUSINESS: Zehabesha Ethiopian Food owners touched by community support

Dinku Tadesse becomes misty eyed when he talks about the support Yellowknife has shown his restaurant. 

He and his wife Eline Baye opened Zehabesha Traditional Ethiopian Food restaurant six years ago and he wants the community to know, thanks to their loyalty, the restaurant is “not going anywhere.”

When they first closed their doors in March, Tadesse said they were fielding constant calls and Facebook messages from Yellowknifers expressing worry for them and asking if they would have to close for good.

“That kind of encouragement gives us homework to stay in business,” he said. 

Dinku Tadesse and Eline Baye are the husband and wife duo behind Zehabesha Traditional Ethiopian Food in downtown Yellowknife. For the second year in a row, the couple is celebrating the restaurant’s Trip Advisor Travellers Choice Award. Natalie Pressman/NNSL photos

Tadesse recalls one instance where a Zehabesha regular customer came to the restaurant and handed him an envelope after paying for her meal. 

“I still feel something when I remember that day,” he said, tearing up. 

On the back of the envelope was written, “Thank you for everything that you do for Yellowknife and us.”

Tadesse said he assumed it was a thank you note or maybe that the patron was going to be leaving town and wanted to say goodbye in a letter. 

When he and Baye later opened the envelope, there was $400 inside. 

For now, the eight $50 bills will stay in the envelope “to remember,” though Tadesse is not yet sure what they will do with the gift.

Dinku Tadesse holds back tears as he recounts the kindness of one Zehabesha regular customer who paid for her meal and handed Tadesse an envelope of eight $50 bills. “Thank you for all that you do for Yellowknife and us,” the message on the envelope reads.

“We are not taking that money.”

On a separate occasion, Tadesse recounts a man coming in and paying for two vegetarian meals – a cost of $50 – with a $200 tip. 

Tadesse said it’s acts of generosity like these that cement his commitment to the community. 

Friday marks Zehabesha’s sixth year since opening. 

That’s six years of working 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. close.

Before opening the restaurant, Baye and Tadesse worked various labour jobs around town. 

Tadesse recalls splitting his days between Javaroma and the grocery store bakery before eventually becoming a taxi driver. 

Baye worked as a housekeeper at a hotel. 

When Baye came to Canada in 2012, two years after Tadesse, she left behind her family’s five-star restaurant in Ethiopia. Baye grew up learning to master injera, curries, and stews, dishes now enjoyed by patrons at their Yellowknife eatery.

Back in Ethiopia, Eline Baye’s family owned a five-star restaurant. For six years she has brought those cooking skills to her Yellowknife eatery.

Yellowknifers are not the only ones benefitting from Baye’s cooking skills, however. 

Displayed on the back wall of the restaurant, Tadesse proudly gestures toward a collage of articles touting Zehabesha as Northwest Territories’ “must-try” from publications around the globe. 

Zehabesha’s cuisine is further recognized by its Trip Advisor awards. For the second consecutive year, the Ethiopian restaurant has won the Trip Advisor Travellers Choice award. 

The combination platter is a mix of traditional Ethiopian dishes on a bed of spongy injera. The platter is Tadesse’s own favourite on the restaurant’s menu.

The distinction is on top of a five years run of earning a Trip Advisor “certificate of excellence.”

Tadesse holds the plaque with pride.

“They love our food, and we just want to tell Yellowknife thank you very much.”

After closing in March, Zehabesha reopened in May for takeout only. In June, the owners began once again serving patrons in the restaurant at a reduced capacity of 25 people. For the foreseeable future, Tadesse said Zehabesha is “with the community.” Though down the road, “only god knows.”

He admits owning a business can be scary at times, but said if things go wrong he can always go back to driving a cab. 

In six years of business, Tadesse said his most critical takeaway has been the power of working hard and practising kindness.

“Even if the customer isn’t happy when he walks in,” he said, “you do your best to make him happy when he’s inside. If you do the right thing, if you respect the people, if you worry about the people, you’re going to get back more.”

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