BY MARK HOUSER
If the morning coffee ritual is an important part of your day, you should see how Seifu Haileyesus ‘90 does it. The Addis Ababa native roasts fresh beans over a flame for an elaborate coffee ceremony every Saturday at his East Liberty restaurant, Tana Ethiopian Cuisine.
"Coffee is everything in Ethiopia," says Haileyesus. "It's a tie that connects the community. When a loved one or a good friend comes to visit you, before anything else, you start making coffee for them. It's labor intensive and it takes time, and you are doing that out of your love and respect for the person who's coming to see you."
Taking time and sharing is a key feature of Ethiopian cuisine. Various thick and spicy stews are traditionally served communally on large flatbread, called injera. Everyone helps himself, tearing off a piece of injera and using it to scoop up whatever morsel looks tastiest.
Back in his business student days, Haileyesus and a few other Ethiopian friends used to have to drive to Washington, D.C., to load up on injera. Now there are two Ethiopian restaurants in the city — both, as it happens, in resurgent East Liberty, only a block away from each other. (Tana is on Baum, across from PNC Bank.) Haileyesus doesn't mind the competition; he recalls a time when he could count all the Indian restaurants in town on one hand. A former project development director with the Minority Enterprise Corporation who helped several small companies get off the ground before launching his own business, he says he has faith in the free market. "Believe me, I would love there to be three or four more Ethiopian restaurants in our neighborhood."
Of course, he's also confident his is the best. It's the only one that's Ethiopian-owned and operated, and the only one where you can have an Ethiopian beer or honey wine with your meal. Everything in the kitchen comes from back home, Haileyesus says, including his sisters, who do most of the cooking.
And if you come at lunchtime on Saturday, he'll take the time to roast you some coffee.