Culture in the Cuisine

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The clock is moments away from a wintry 8 a.m. as day breaks and the sun begins to rise, making shadows disappear and letting light flood into the windows of the Abyssinian Restaurant.

It’s a quaint little space, the walls adorned with exotic pictures from a faraway land that catch the eye of all who make an entrance here.

While nothing seems to stir at this hour, somewhere in this unique landscape Aberra Jote is preparing to open the doors to another world, and your eyes, to Ethiopian culture and cuisine.

Jote opened the The Abyssinian, located at 313 Fifth St. S. In Lethbridge, in 2007 and, with wife Mary, has made it a success.

“A pleasant surprise,” says Jote, born and raised in Ethiopia. “The exposure to the restaurant has been powerful from such a small community, and when you see that coming out in this city, that’s something I look forward to.”

The couple met during travels to West Berlin in the early 1980s; Mary was originally from Red Deer, and the two eventually decided to move back to Canada due to the size of the country and the opportunities available. Married for nearly 24 years, they have two sons, Solomon and Nathaniel.

Jote enrolled in Lethbridge College’s Business Administration program in 1987 to foster his interest in marketing, graduating with a two-year diploma.

“Part of [my reason for attending the college] was my background,” says Jote, who used to be a bookkeeper in Ethiopia. “I found taking the program reinforced a lot of what I had already learned. All I had to do was determine what area of focus I was going to enjoy.”

Jote worked many jobs after graduation, attempting to determine what was right for him. After honing his bookkeeping at a building supply chain, he concluded his marketing skills would be perfect for opening a restaurant.

“The idea of having my own business was reinforced when I went to the college and got my business diploma,” he says. “[The restaurant] was an idea that hadn’t been fermented yet. When this place became open for rent, the puzzle started to fit together. It was also a way to provide some culture to the local community.

“At the beginning, I had a little bit of convincing to do because I knew what it would take to run this business; it takes a lot of time and dedication,” says Jote.

Getting started wasn’t easy, but Jote had overwhelming support, including from Mary who was a substitute teacher in Coaldale.

“The time came when I needed her, and she simply said ‘this is your dream’ and agreed to give me a hand.”

The two handle all facets of their business alone: cooking, serving, cleaning and bookkeeping. Due to the immensity of these tasks, they often face 14-hour days.

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