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Broadening the dining experience

By Alexa Noel

Addis Ababa-born Berhane Tesfai attempt to bring big city American style to the Addis Ababa has resulted in the vibrant, two-storey M.L.K. Jr. Bar and Restaurant, located between Nuxes Hotel and Totot cultural restaurant.

Newly opened last December, the Martin Luther King Jr. restaurant, as it is affectionately called, brings modern American-style cuisine to the Addis’s food scene. The restaurant’s creative and tasty menu includes a wide variety of foods like the famous Chicago deep dish pizza and the house special M.L.K. pizza. The M.L.K pizza is topped with chicken, meat, tuna and olives and cheese. Several customers enjoy the deep dish pizza on Saturday night before hitting the lounge on the second level of the restaurant. While the restaurant is known for its pizza, it also serves a variety of Ethiopian traditional foods.

Opening a restaurant on Addis has always been a dream for Berhane. For over 20 years, he worked in the customer service industry and owned several restaurants and establishments in the United States. Born on the outskirts of Addis, he mainly grew up in the Midwest states Colorado and Arizona. It was there that he was first introduced and inspired by the life works of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King was an activist and a church minister who led the African American Civil Rights movement.  He is known for nonviolent protest methods during the Civil Rights movement era like the 1965 Montgomery bus boycott and the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered his famous; “I Have a Dream Speech.”According to Berhane, Martin Luther King Jr. was the “prince” of the civil rights movement. It was King’s dedication and fight for equality and justice for all Americans of all colors, that inspired him the most. And because of that, he was inspired to name his restaurant after the Civil Rights leader.

“Somebody who is exposed to Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle and fight for freedom of African Americans and all people would be inspired,” says Berhane.

The atmosphere of the restaurant captures the history of African- Americans in the United States. The walls are covered with photos and inspirational quotes of equality by Martin Luther King Jr. as well as other Civil Rights pioneers, activists and historical figures. 

“This may be just a restaurant,” says Berhane. “But, tomorrow it can be an archive that students would go to know learn about the Civil Rights movement. My goal is to essentially introduce MLK Jr. and make a bridge between the African youth and the Civil Rights Movement in America.”

But, MLK Jr. Restaurant and Bar doesn’t just represent the ideas of Martin Luther King Jr.; it also represents the ideas of America.

One of the main objectives of Berhane’s restaurant is to create space where Ethiopians can get first-hand experience of an American bar and restaurant or a pizza and burger joint. In some sense, they can ask us what MLK does mean and what this food does represent not only from a custumer’s point of view but also from an employee’s. The MLK Jr. restaurant currently employs 23 people, all of whom are young locals. He returned to Ethiopia because he wanted to teach and inspire young people about the ways of doing business in America and he has done just that.

“I was born here and I love the people and the culture. I was thinking that if I could have 10 employees, they could learn so much. It’s not only about the employment but my ideas, my standards. My experiences would help them to know about the bar and restaurant business. A small restaurant like this can help people by exposing them to the American style restaurant business and international standard of business,” said Berhane.

He sees his restaurant as a glimpse of an American-style business. Most of the décor and settings are in fact imported from America, for example, the barbecue grill and fire pit that is located in the outside seating area of the restaurant. The significance of the grill and fire pit is that it reflects a common social activity in many American households. The most popular grilling occasions are holidays like the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Memorial Day. Berhane  has brought the experience of barbecuing to Ethiopia. Now, customers can enjoy a nice barbecue gathering by preordering a grilling event, which the restaurant will organize. 

“My next goal is to open another chain of Martin Luther King Jr. restaurant in Ethiopia,” said Berhane . “I want the Diaspora [and the world] to know that we are here. When they come to Ethiopia they have to come to see and learn.”