Owner, Abyssinian Ethiopian Cuisine in the West Side Bazaar
Zelalem was born and raised in Ethiopia but left because of political issues in her native country. She immigrated to Yemen, alone, when she was in her 20s, and lived in a refugee camp there, where she met her husband, a political refugee. She learned the language, and started to work in a restaurant, eventually opening her own successful restaurant with a number of employees. She and her family lived in Yemen for 12 years before resettling in Buffalo as refugees in 2006.
Her father had studied in the U.S. and received his master’s from University of Michigan. But he was imprisoned in Ethiopia by a group of officials. Zelalem says, “Not all government officials were happy but they can’t do anything, and our family did not get any support. . . My father was working hard for his country. He died in prison.” After high school she got a job to support her sister and brothers. She had been taking care of them for many years, but after her father’s death she left the country.
Zelalem graduated from ECC where she studied general science and graduated with a liberal arts degree. Although she started nursing school she was unable to finish because she needed to focus on her children (a son, Solomon Tesfaye, 22, who graduated from Colgate University; and her daughter, Feben Tesfaye, 16, who is a junior at Park School of Buffalo). Her husband works as a pastry chef at Adam’s Mark Hotel.
Zelalem loves cooking, a skill she learned from her mother. Her restaurant, Abyssinian Ethiopian Cuisine, is located in the West Side Bazaar, an international business incubator located on Grant Street in Buffalo. It is run by WEDI (Westminster Economic Development Initiative) and features shops and a food court.
Zelalem sells authentic Ethiopian cuisine using spices sent to her from Ethiopia by her sister who still lives there. Her eventual goal is to open a modern, stand-alone restaurant. She says, “I would love to someday own my own Ethiopian restaurant. I would sell original dishes and serve everything on handmade plates. All details in my restaurant would be traditionally Ethiopian.”
Photo credit: The Buffalo News