Lucy Ethiopian Cafe: An Immigrant Love Story

Traditional Ethiopian coffee served in a traditional jerbena
Girmay Ziegaye
Lucy Ethiopian Cafe Owner Girmay Ziegaye

 

Owner and Executive Chef of Lucy Ethiopian Café (334 Massachusetts Ave) Girmay Ziegaye found his way to Boston after falling in love with a native in his home town of Addis Ababa. After a much belabored romance, they decided to make Boston their home. Many years and two children later, Ziegaye thought to bring his love of country, generations of business experience, and fervent determination into creating what is now Lucy Ethiopian Café. After just three years, and rave reviews, the business is thriving. Love seems to be the theme of this restaurant from the reason its founder came to the passion that goes into everything that makes the award-winning café .

Lucy Ethiopian Cafe - Decorations  017In the décor Ziegaye has taken great care to bring authentic pieces from Ethiopia accent the modern seating. The café serve as a gallery to both local artists and those from Ethiopia featuring Ethiopian artists DEJEME. Above the door frame features artists from Boston’s prison system. Ziegaye acts as curator, and all of the art is for sale.

To add even more to the authentic ambiance, a large menu board above the cashier desk lists drinks items alongside an Ethiopian language guide where patrons can learn a few phrases. “I just put the board up for fun, but people really seem to like it. They use it, “Ziegaye says.

Lucy Ethiopian Cafe Sign 023

Because of the area, alcohol cannot be served, so they have a variety of non-alcoholic beverages. Ethiopian coffee is served in a traditional jerbena with smoking incense and is taken with salt not sugar, to bring out the rich flavor. A must try is the peanut tea: a delightful combination of frothed milk, honey and peanuts. If you are a peanut butter, peanut brittle fan this is the perfect drink for you. It is served year round in hot or cold varieties and is absolutely decadent. For a great start to the morning or a perfect pick-me-up afternoon snack, try the carrot juice which is a delightful concoction of carrots, apple juice and a hint of ginger and lemon.
The drinks are a bit pricey – over $3.00, but are certainly worth the extra change.

Carrot juice
Carrot juice
Peanut Tea
Peanut Tea

Ziegaye, who didn’t graduate with even a high school diploma, learned his culinary experience from his family. When asked to describe Ethiopian cuisine he says, “Ethiopia was ever colonized, so we have a straight connection to the food. It is the reason why we still eat with our hands. You are directly connected to what you are eating.” Food is served in large platters on beds of injera – Ethiopian style bread. The bread is made in house two times a week, but it is so popular they often have to outsource to a local supplier. Most of the food is shopped locally and organic. The prices are very reasonable  – I would say almost criminal for the quality- with most combination platters coming in under $10.00. And for the health concious (or going on a 22 day challenge) they have a lot of vegetarian options. He explains, “It is traditional for most people in Ethiopia, the Christian people, to fast Wednesday and Fridays. But then sometimes, they fast other days or fast for a week or a month, so it just became a part of our cuisine to always have a lot of vegetarian items on the menu.”

Traditional Ethiopian coffee served in a traditional jerbena
Traditional Ethiopian coffee served in a traditional jerbena

My favorite is Attikit Combo which includes miser wot – red lentils simmered in a spicy hot sauce, gomen – fresh collard greens simmered in a mild sauce, seasoned with spices and herbs, and tikile gomen – cabbage and potatoes simmered in a mild sauce. The large portions easily make for a two meal deal. The hummus, made in house, is also a very popular item on the menu. It is served in a wrap or on a platter as an appetizer.

Though most patrons stop by for lunch or dinner, a popular item on the breakfast menu is a traditional Ethiopian breakfast – che’che bsa made of a corn bread like grain lightly mixed with spices, Ethiopian butter and a drizzle of honey, served warm. It is available mixed with scrambled eggs which add savory to the sweet sticky texture.

Ethiopian breakfast dish, che’che bsa
Ethiopian breakfast dish, che’che bsa

Girmay Ziegaye  – is truly living the American dream. He was a man who followed the love of a woman and with hard work founded a successful business. Navigating through language and cultural barriers, he set up his space to showcase the homeland he loves while never forgetting where he came from. When asked about how he did it, he says “When I first opened up, I didn’t have enough money for a staff, so for seven months I did everything. I was cook. I was cashier. I was janitor. I do everything. When you own your own business, you must know how to do everything before your employee does. I work hard. But I find when you support people. They support you.”

We support you for sure Girmay! Fab! Approved 🙂