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One-woman wonder: Mama Yeshi runs a business all on her own PDF Print E-mail
Written by Saba Hailemariam   
Friday, 16 April 2010 13:09

Owner fights to keep her Ethiopian bakery for as long as she can despite health issues

A former Ethiopian restaurant turned bakery has been the centre of Yeshareg Assefa’s world for the last five years. She sleeps, and spends almost 24 hours a day at the Ethiopian bakery, while only allowing herself three hours of sleep from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m.

She and her husband attempted to land jobs in Calgary in 2003 but had no success, because his computer networking degree and her family science degree from Prince Edward Island were not accepted here.

Assefa said she didn’t want to go to school again so she and her husband decided to start their own carpet cleaning business with one other person. She said after one year, she and her husband saved up enough money to open up an Ethiopian restaurant in 2004 called Addis Ababa Restaurant. Friends, family and customers now know Yeshareg Assefa as “Mama Yeshi.”

“The restaurant was very busy for one year,” Assefa said. “Then the business began to slow down because other similar Ethiopian restaurants (were) opening around the city.”

Yeshareg Assefa (left) and her son Yani Assefa inside of the former Addis Ababa Restaurant now turned into an Ethiopian bakery.
Photo:Saba Hailemariam/Calgary Journal
Assefa said she was advised by her family to close the business but she was not having it. She said she came up with the idea to transform the restaurant into an injera making business, while still keeping the same name.

Injera is a special type of Ethiopian/Eritrean flat bread, shaped like large flat discs. Serving utensils are not common in the Ethiopian culture. The different meats and sauces are placed in the centre of the injera then scooped onto torn pieces of injera which act as both plate and fork.

Assefa said she spends endless days and nights making injera along with help from her children sometimes.

She said at the start of the business her husband would find and distribute the injera to different convenience stores around the city. Initially the stores were worried about the injera not selling so they didn’t accept it.

“The stores would not accept us at first but we …made them understand that they will not lose anything. It is we who lose,” Assefa said.

After six months the injera gradually became a hit from not only Ethiopian and Eritrean communities, but also from people of all different ethnic backgrounds.

Today Assefa makes about 500 injeras a day despite her health issues that include progressive back problems. Assefa said she still continues to run the majority of the business on her own, essentially doing everything all by herself.

“I make the injera, I prepare the dough, I pack it myself and I deliver it myself,” Assefa said.

Now that her back problems are beginning to take their toll, she has come to an agreement with her family: they have been pushing her to close her business in May of this year due to her health.

Yani Assefa, 22, is Assefa’s youngest out of her eight children. He was taking civil engineering at The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), but had to take this winter semester off to help his mother with the business.

On an average day Yani said he comes to the business to help mix the batter, pack the injera and deliver it to the numerous stores across the city.

He also makes sure that all the orders for injera are filled and that everything is running smoothly. Although Yani helps his mother as much as he can, his mother is the main person holding the business together.

“My mom does 98 per cent of the work. Without her this business is nothing,” Yani said.

Simon Neguse is a big fan and frequent buyer of injera. He said he was raised on eating injera since it is also eaten in his home country of Eritrea.

“I love injera. I could eat it almost everyday because it’s my favorite food,” Neguse said.

He said there is a convenience store near his downtown apartment that sells injera and that he makes a trip down there almost every other day to buy it.