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(Eastbayexpress.com) The Sacrifices and Rewards of Family-Run Restaurants

Posted by: Biniam Tekle

Date: Thursday, 28 September 2017

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The Sacrifices and Rewards of Family-Run Restaurants 

At Shan Dong, Asmara Restaurant, and World's Fare Donuts, parents and their children reflect on succession.




Brothers Yonathan Yohannes and Benyam Yohannes (top left-to-right) might run Asmara Restaurant one day. That’s what their parents Kesete Yohannes and Okba R. Yohannes hope for, at least. - PHOTO BY DARRYL BARNES




  • Photo by Darryl Barnes
  • Brothers Yonathan Yohannes and Benyam Yohannes (top left-to-right) might run Asmara Restaurant one day. That’s what their parents Kesete Yohannes and Okba R. Yohannes hope for, at least.

Kesete Yohannes, who, along with his wife Okba Yohannes, owns Asmara Restaurant (5020 Telegraph Ave.) in Oakland's Temescal, has a different take on succession.

"I always wanted the business to be continued by the kids," he said, explaining that he wouldn't want to sell the business that he and his wife started more than 30 years ago to just anyone. 

Opened in October of 1985, Asmara is the oldest continually operating Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurant in the East Bay. It was Okba's idea to open a restaurant, because her family operated one in Zalambessa, a town on the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The couple, who immigrated from East Africa separately, are almost always present at their restaurant. It's that consistency that has carried the quality of their food and service as well as a wise decision to buy the restaurant's building early on that make Asmara one of the oldest restaurants on the block.

The Yohannes' sons, Benyam, 28, and Yonathan, 25, have recently taken on a bigger role in the family business. Though he and his brother spent many childhood weekends at Asmara, Yonathan seemed surprised at his interest in his family's business.

"It's weird how I ended up here. I never thought I'd be in the restaurant industry," he said, sitting in the restaurant's newly renovated Asmara Lounge, which is set to operate separately as a bar with light snacks and open formally in October.

The sons convinced their parents to invest in the restaurant's neglected bar, seeing great potential in a lounge on the busy block of Telegraph. Kesete is encouraged by their business-mindedness and is optimistic that the folks who have kept Asmara in business will also support his sons' new venture.

"People know you and they'll support your kids, too," he said.

For the time being, he and Okba will continue to run the restaurant side of things with the eventual goal of training their sons further and reducing their own hours. Yonathan speaks in admiration of his parents' institutional knowledge of their restaurant.

"I think it's because he's been doing it for 30 years, but the stuff I watch him do — I'm like, 'How do you know exactly how much injera to make on a Tuesday, on a Wednesday?' They really don't waste anything," he said.

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