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Refugees to restauranteurs - Trio from Eritrea and Ethiopia overcoming challenges after opening amid pandemic

New Ethiopian-Eritrean restaurant overcomes challenges to open on Cleveland's west side
Posted at 5:17 PM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 09:43:09-05

CLEVELAND — The pandemic has closed doors for many restaurants, but we’ve also seen some have success, including the owners of Habesha Restaurant, a new Ethiopian-Eritrean spot on Cleveland’s west side.

“This was a dream of us. The three of us,” Jamal Musa, co-owner of Habesha Restaurant, said. “We always had a plan to open a restaurant.”

A dream that finally came true for Musa, his wife Tigist Gebremichael and their best friend Hirityi Weld-esalasi. All three came to the United States as refugees - Jamal and Hiriyiti from Eritrea and Tigist from Ethiopia.

Credit: Dave Hatala

“When I left at the time there was a war going on,” Musa said.

About a year ago, they linked up with the US Together Microenterprise Development program, which helps refugee entrepreneurs in Cleveland to start working on that dream.

“They got small business training, financial literacy training. They also received a small loan to help them with their business,” said Tiffany Baccus, a program coordinator for US Together.

From there, they set up pop-up shops at local farmers markets before making a big move to Lorain Avenue in Kamm’s Corners, opening Habesha Restaurant just over a week ago. The trio serves up traditional Ethiopian-Eritrean cuisine.

“Habesha means Ethiopian, Eritrean are the same people. So that's why we came up with that name,” Musa said.

It's the first Ethiopian-Eritrean restaurant on the city’s West Side.

“The biggest challenge was finding a place,” Musa said.

Credit: Dave Hatala

The next biggest challenge? Dealing with a global pandemic, which caused delays with their opening timeline, including city inspections.

“Even the owner of the place asked us after a couple months, are you guys still gonna keep going with this?” Musa said.

But Musa says they persevered with a lot of support from their landlord, US Together, and the community.

“Since we opened last week, it's been okay. People will call and order and pick up their food,” Musa said.

He’s hoping their slow and steady start translates into a long-lasting legacy.

“This is big for us, so we have to see how we can manage this,” Musa said.

More information about US Together’s Microenterprise Development program can be found on their website.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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