Marisa Nuñez, Marisa Hair, Long Island City, NY

Yosef Hale

The Blue Nile: Ethiopian Cuisine

Jamaica Plain, MA

“People don’t only come here to eat, they like to come here to discuss art and culture. They enjoy the food and house-made honey wine and the custom of eating by hand.”

BRINGING ETHIOPIAN CUISINE TO BOSTON

When Yosef had the opportunity to take over his sister’s popular Ethiopian restaurant The Blue Nile, he had no idea what he was in for.  “It changed me a lot.  It consumed a lot of my energy. The challenge was cooking on a large scale.”  Yosef had never managed a restaurant before so there were many things he had to learn through trial and error. But it worked. The Blue Nile was selected as Boston’s Best Ethiopian Restaurant in 2015. Their food has been praised among the best Ethiopian cuisines with classic dishes from doro wet (a rich chicken dish with berbere and eggs) to vegetarian-friendly options like yekik alicha (simmered yellow split peas).

 

THE STRUGGLE OF COVID-19

Now five years after he took over The Blue Nile, he’s opening all over again – this time after closing because of the COVID pandemic. It felt a lot like starting over.

“First,” Yosef says, “the price of food had been inflated like thirty percent.  Second, the problem was hiring employees.  The old employees were not coming back, and I had to hire new employees and teach them how to cook our food.”  With two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans totaling $58,000 from Ascendus, he was able to hire new employees.  “The loan helped pay rent and insurance and it also helped pay about 60 percent of employee’s salaries. Before the pandemic we had eight employees and we now have five.”

GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY

Despite the setbacks of the pandemic this past year, Yosef insisted on donating food to a local home that houses young men (ages 16 to 21) with little or no family who are struggling to live independently.  Some of them were refugees from Eritrea which borders Ethiopia and enjoys similar food. The local community recognized Yosef’s philanthropic efforts by supporting The Blue Nile with a burst in business after reading about his donation on social media.

The Blue Nile feels like much more than a restaurant; it feels like community. It’s an art gallery providing a cultural haven for Ethiopians to come together and talk about the country’s history. Customers even help with the décor and design of the place. “They have advised me from what color to paint the walls to artwork to helping put on events,” says Yosef.  “People don’t only come here to eat, they like to come here to discuss art and culture. They enjoy the food and house-made honey wine and the custom of eating by hand.”

In the next couple of years, Yosef hopes to double his business. “I want the Blue Nile to be a landmark here in Jamaica Plain.  I want it to continue with a strong future in the community.”

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