LEFT: Alemayehu “Alex” Abebe, from Ethiopia, at his Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant in Maryland. RIGHT: Abraham Melles, from Eritrea, at his Delina Eritrean Urban Kitchen, also in Maryland. (State Dept./David A. Peterson)
Two men who grew up in Ethiopia and Eritrea and later became U.S. citizens and entrepreneurs are especially optimistic about what a historic 2018 peace deal between the two African countries could mean for the future.
“Eritrean people are hoping for a great change,” said Abraham Melles, 43, who came to Virginia in 1998 and a year later founded Crystal Parking, a Virginia-based parking services company.
In August, Melles opened Delina Eritrean Urban Kitchen, a 50-seat restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, that he named after his 10-year-old daughter. The tapas-style restaurant serves Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine.
“America has been great to me, and I’m fortunate enough to accomplish all this from scratch,” said Melles, who became a U.S. citizen in 2012.
Now he is hoping to create opportunities in his home country. He recently opened a 28-room boutique hotel in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital city. “We are very ready to host them,” Melles said.
Starting over in the U.S.
Alemayehu “Alex” Abebe, 50, moved to the United States in 1994 during a period of political unrest in his native Ethiopia.
Like Melles, he settled in the Washington area, home to the largest concentration of Ethiopians in the United States and the largest Ethiopian community outside Addis Ababa. With a new Ethiopian government and peace deal in place with Eritrea, Abebe is planning a trip back home for the first time in more than 20 years. “This is the right direction,” said Abebe who passed his U.S. citizenship exam and is awaiting the date for his swearing-in ceremony.
In 2012, Abebe opened a tiny eatery in Washington called Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant — after the mountainous Ethiopian region.
The restaurant now seats 69 people and is in the midst of an expansion that will accommodate another 41 diners. Earlier this year, Abebe opened a second location in Bethesda and plans on opening two more next year in Washington and Virginia.
In doing so, he’s not only contributing to the area’s burgeoning culinary scene, but he’s also paying homage to his late parents and the Ethiopian restaurant they once owned in Chercher.
This article was written by freelance writer Lenore T. Adkins.