Taste of Ethiopia Introduces Organic, Packaged Ethiopian Food in Markets

Hiyaw Gebreyohannes (center), owner of Taste of Ethiopia, with his mom (left) and his aunt (right). (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Friday, December 9, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – We recently spotted a selection of ready-made Ethiopian vegetarian food at a natural food market in midtown Manhattan and learned of Hiyaw Gebreyohannes’ Taste of Ethiopia brand. The organic misir wot, cabbage and greens, along with gluten-free injera is now available at grocery chains such as Fairway as well as in food co-ops and smaller markets.

Hiyaw was born in Djibouti. His parents walked for 17 days before crossing from Ethiopia into Djibouti, and they stayed there till Hiyaw turned one-year-old. In the 1980s his family moved to Toronto, Canada and eventually opened two Ethiopian restaurants — Blue Nile and King Solomon. Hiyaw says he literally grew up in the kitchen.

“There were hardly any Abesha people in Toronto in the 1980s and I spent many nights at our restaurant with the family,” he said. “There even was a bed in the large coat check room, and another bed at the back of the bar. I spent a lot of time at the restaurant and grew up around Abesha food.”

When Hiyaw’s mom moved to Michigan and opened two restaurants there, Hiyaw ran and operated an African fusion restaurant called Zereoue in New York. He then took a year off to travel, going twice to Ethiopia before experimenting with packaging Ethiopian food in Michigan.

“I knew that I wanted to focus on Ethiopian food, and I knew I didn’t want to work in another restaurant,” he told us. When the packaged food venture succeeded in Michigan he told himself it was a no-brainer to introduce the concept in New York.

Taste of Ethiopia currently offers vegetarian Ethiopian cuisine. The organic cabbage, carrot, and collard greens are sourced locally from farms in upstate New York while Ethiopian spices such as Berbere are imported from Ethiopia.

“I’ve tried to stay as close to my mom’s recipes, and not to lose the flavors of the cuisine,” Hiyaw pointed out. “But I’m also focused on using the freshest ingredients.”

Hiyaw would like his brand to be more than just the sharing of ready-made Ethiopian food. “A big part of why I did this includes the fact that as Americans we don’t eat well,” he noted. “It’s such an irony that Ethiopia is not known for food. Ethiopian food is nutritious and healthy.”

When thinking of how to grow his business, Hiyaw not only looks at being able to have Taste of Ethiopia products on Whole Foods shelves, but also to encourage school boards to be part of the initiative of getting healthy food into schools. He mentions that his goals are reflective of national health promotion campaigns such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity ‘Let’s Move’ program.

“With Taste of Ethiopia,” Hiyaw said, “we’re also talking about a social aspect, of changing how we eat to a more healthier alternative.” Hiyaw is also looking to hire within the community as his business grows.

Hiyaw Gebreyohannes. (Courtesy photo)

Taste of Ethiopia on display at a market. (Courtesy photo)

The Taste of Ethiopia brand. (Courtesy photo)

Describing the competition in the food packaging industry Hiyaw admitted, “It’s definitely hard. It’s not just about cooking the food. If you don’t have the right labels, right look, right marketing, if it’s not on the right shelves then it doesn’t really matter what you have inside the container, no one would try your food.” Having said that, however, he knows that the market is large and there is space to work hard, make good connections with buyers, and succeed immensely.

Hiyaw mentioned Cafe Spice (distributors of packaged Indian food) as a model success story. “They started from being a mom-and-pop restaurant in New York and became a $100 million business operating out of a 60,000 square foot state-of-the-art kitchen and distributing their products across the nation,” he said. “I’m only in the beginning stages, but I look at businesses such as Cafe Spice when I’m working to expand my business.”

In terms of mentors Hiyaw feels blessed to have learned from his mom and family. “I have so many wonderful women in my life — mom, aunt, sisters,” he shared. One doesn’t usually find too many Abesha men in the kitchen environment, but he says his mother was instrumental in making him feel comfortable and teaching him how to cook Ethiopian food. “I don’t only cook Ethiopian, I also do a lot of traveling and I try cooking food from different regions. All this comes from being comfortable in the kitchen.” As far packaging Ethiopian food in particular, Hiyaw said: “I’m going to venture out there and say that I think I’m the only person doing this. For this avenue I don’t necessarily have someone that I can look up to.”

Grocery chains and natural food stores have been interested in selling Taste of Ethiopia products and Hiyaw is careful about his limitations when it comes to distribution.

“There are challenges in negotiations and making sure that you’re not over-scaling what you can do,” he said. “Sometimes people are afraid that if they don’t say ‘yes’ they may lose the opportunity, but if you do say yes and then you don’t produce the amount agreed upon then you’ve closed the door completely.”

Right now Hiyaw wears many hats. “I’m owner and assistant and cook. It’s all about being humble, not being scared, and doing the hard work,” he told us. “I’ve learned this from my mom. She did everything — cooking, washing. She was the first one to get to the restaurant and the last one to leave. I’ve modeled my business after her restaurant.” Hiyaw’s brand is named after his mom’s restaurant in Michigan (also called Taste of Ethiopia) and whose motto is: “Be Authentic.”

Hiyaw also credits his mom’s entrepreneurial spirit for igniting the same passion in him. “I told my mom at age 10 or 11 that I’d never work for anybody, and I’ve had a few jobs, but never one that was 9 to 5,” he said. “So my mom plays a big role. All I’ve ever seen her do is her own business. Being right there at the table. It’s a great thing as an entrepreneur to sit at the table.”

Like any business Taste of Ethiopia also has its own set of challenges,but Hiyaw also sees the challenge as a moment of opportunity. “Rejection, failure — these things motivate me further. It’s thrilling to be able to watch problems and scenarios play out and then see the end results,” Hiyaw said. He is also heartened by the opportunity to share his work with the community. “When I get phone calls like this,” he added “it’s wonderful that someone wants to hear what my story is.”

Hiyaw also mentioned the recent cartoon episode featuring Ethopian cuisine. “Did you the see the Simpson’s episode? I am most proud that Abesha food can be shown in a different light. I grew up listening to Ethiopia being equated with famine, and being so self-conscious, I didn’t want to have the smell of spices from the restaurant on my jacket. I preferred french fries and hamburgers. Now that has changed.”

In addition to selling Taste of Ethiopia products Hiyaw also regularly organizes underground dinners, which consist of invite-only meals prepared and served at various non-restaurant locations. One theme, for example, was the communal table and the sharing of food from several African countries. Hiyaw sees this as an opportunity to get invited guests to open their senses and experience new food cultures. Hiyaw is also working on launching a food truck to further promote his business. “At the end of the day, it’s all about good food, great packaging, and hard work” he said.

Taste of Ethiopia products are currently available for purchase in the following New York locations: Fairway, Foragers Market, Park Slope Food Co-op, Westerly Market, Westside Market, Union Market (in Brooklyn), Integral Yoga Natural Food Store, and Blue Apron. Gourmet Garage and Dean & Deluca (on Spring St) will start carrying Taste of Ethiopia in the new year, with hopefully many more stores as well.

Tseday Alehegn is Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine.

23 Responses to “Taste of Ethiopia Introduces Organic, Packaged Ethiopian Food in Markets”

  1. 1 Mengonte Dec 9th, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Taste of Ethiopia ia a timely and winning idea.. You can’t go wrong with it! Good job ethio man!!

  2. 2 Mimi Dec 9th, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Well done Tseday, as always! Thank you for the introducing as to Hiyaw, the Taste of Ethiopia brand and his business spirit!! Good read!

  3. 3 WA Dec 9th, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Bravo! Taste of Ethiopia sounds like a winner. Yet another thoughtful, entrepreneurial Ethiopian-American.

    I was reminded of one of my favorite and most enlightening exhibits held at the Schomurg in 2005, available on the web. http://www.inmotionaame.org/home.cfm

    In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience presents a new interpretation of African-American history, one that focuses on the self-motivated activities of peoples of African descent to remake themselves and their worlds. Of the thirteen defining migrations that formed and transformed African America, only the transatlantic slave trade and the domestic slave trades were coerced, the eleven others were voluntary movements of resourceful and creative men and women, risk-takers in an exploitative and hostile environment. Their survival skills, efficient networks, and dynamic culture enabled them to thrive and spread, and to be at the very core of the settlement and development of the Americas. Their hopeful journeys changed not only their world and the fabric of the African Diaspora but also the Western Hemisphere. Close-knit, attached to their cultures, and quick to seize the educational and professional opportunities of their host country, African immigrants have established themselves as one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial groups in the country.

  4. 4 Sosina Dec 9th, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Where can I get Taste of ethiopa in Las Vegas?

  5. 5 DJ Dec 9th, 2011 at 8:45 am

    way to go bro!

  6. 6 Sarah Jackson Dec 9th, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Wow – this is really an amazing idea! I’ve always wondered why Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern food was so readily available at Whole Foods but other cuisines were not. I love Ethiopian food and now I dont have to find a restaurant to feed my craving. I might even go as far as saying I cooked it myself !! Taste of Ethiopia – cant wait for you guys to come to a store near me!

  7. 7 Tezeta Dec 9th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Finally, somebody stepped up to the plate in NYC area. Thank you.

  8. 8 Gigi Dec 9th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    That is great I love our food. Thanks so dearly Hiyaw. I make really nice and super spicy Doro wot and yebeg wot. Let me know if you are interested. You can’t eat it enough!!!!! Just joking. It shouldn’t be too spicy.but I love spicy food. Hope you make those too.

    Some time I feel like a I am committing a crime when I ask to buy Injera at new York
    Restaurants. Because they don’t sell injera. They don’t seem too happy selling the bread.

  9. 9 Mimi Dec 9th, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Great idea!!

    I lived in NY for many years and I love this city. However, I always craved for Ethiopian grocery or something like it right here in NY. I can’t tell you how excited I am right now. I’m looking for Taste of Ethiopia this weekend.

    Did I tell you how much I love Tadias, you guys have become my source of info about what is out there in Ethiopian community. God bless.


  10. 10 Hiyaw Gebreyohannes Dec 9th, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks Tadias for sharing my story. I’m glad to see all the positive feedback. This weekend i will be doing a tasting at Union Market in bkln on court st from 12:30-4pm come by and say hi.

    The other stores to go check are listed and there are many more to come. Fairway will have the product after the new year.

    Follow us on twitter @tethiopia & @hiyaw for updates.

  11. 11 Gigi Dec 10th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks Hiyaw. What a wonderful job you are doing. Let me know if you need my help
    I would love to help you in any way I could. Ejigayehu@aol.com.

    I have been thinking about it. Just for the sake of more Ethiopian food availability
    In new York and and in America in general. And I also have been thinking to introduce it to butter companies about Ethiopian butter or the way it is prepared so people can have the alternative. And also about Ethiopia Berber (chili powder) and mitimita (cuyan paper) which are prepared which amazing ingredients and spice to the finest test. I believe . Ethiopia has a lot to offer to the world in terms of food and a lot of other areas to build a healthier and connected world.

    Thanks again.


  12. 12 Gigi Dec 10th, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Some thing I have to tell you people. Some thing that we don’t seem to observe. Is that Ethiopian butter lasts for years specially if you keep it in a semi cool condition But some time that is not even the case. It is amazing. What could it be? I am sure It is the spices or it’s got some thing to do with boiling it may be when it is prepared? I don’t know, but it is amazing amazing to me.

  13. 13 Minte Dec 11th, 2011 at 12:20 am

    Well the same thing with Chiko as well. It stays forever. But I would still keep my butter in the fridge.

    But I have an experience with chiko. I once took a good home-made Chiko and a not-so-well-made Qolo to a potluck for small class group in a university in Holland. It was a small diverse group of Dutch, Norwegians, Chinese and me, the Ethiopian. Every one brought something from his or her country. The food was great. I still rememneber the chinese food I ate. But they never liked the chiko. It was too strong for them. I think it was the spices in the butter I guess. I remember the guy asking me what is in the chiko and when I told about the spiced butter, he said ‘ emm… it must be a very bad butter’. lol. That was funny. But they liked the not-so-nice dry qolo. One girl even asked me (to my surprise) to take it away from her front because should couldn’t stop eating it. It sort of was addictive to her. Just like some chips are here – but the salt and other stuffs in the chips make you not stop eating the chips. But there was nothing in the qolo – it wasn’t even rubbed with oil – as some finely made commercial qolo’s are.

    Anyway, since then I have never given a foreigner chiko or food made with ethiopian butter. The chiko was a very good one. That I can tell you that. It was just a completely news and very strong flavor for them I guess . . . . Indians have similarly spiced butter as well which they use to mix with rice. They sale it in their stores and outside the fridge. It is sold in canned bottles. By the way, there is a perplexing similarity between Indian and ethiopian cuisine. Just last week, I ate some lamb curry something and it tasted and looked exactly like shiro bozena – except that the meat were cut hugely bigger here and that I used rice to eat it with. My indian friend went to Ethiopia last year and tasted chechebsa with honey at yeshi bunna – and he is still talking about it. He spent his whole two weeks eating yeshi Buna’s chechebsa every day and veggie in the evening. Since there is that spiced ethiopian butter in the chechebsa, he obviously must have liked it. So may be some groups who are used to spicey cuisines like ethiopian butter . . .

  14. 14 Mestawot Dec 11th, 2011 at 5:19 am


  15. 15 Anonymous Dec 11th, 2011 at 5:26 am

    Good job. Glad that we can finally have some Ethiopian locally. I just bought some from the west side. It’s a bit expensive. Also need an expiration date or a date when the foods were prepared. Other than that, keep it up!

  16. 16 Kibba Dec 11th, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Good job Hiyaw.We have alot of things which yet not have been discovered.

  17. 17 Jojo Dec 11th, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Tebarek! Excellent!

  18. 18 Haile Dec 14th, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    We already have it in Denver.

  19. 19 Chappy Dec 20th, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Wish you luck and success. It is hard, and I for one can appreciate that fact being in the same business. You’re doing it the right way, keep at it and you’ll get there.

  20. 20 Disappointed Dec 23rd, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    When will Westerly Natural Market start carrying Taste of Ethiopia products? I checked 2 days ago and they had no idea what I was talking about.

  21. 21 Getachew m Dec 26th, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Job well done, these are the things that we need to show the world, we have the most testy food that every one loves to test.

  22. 22 Rachel Jan 17th, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Nice work… wishing you success!

  1. 1 How Sweet it is: New York’s Taste of Ethiopia is About to Get a Taste of Stardom at Tadias Magazine Pingback on Jun 8th, 2012 at 12:45 am
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