Asheville’s first and only Ethiopian restaurant, Addissae, has fallen on hard times nearly a year after opening. The restaurant’s owners, Vicki Schomer and Neeraj Kebede, recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to elicit community support and help pay for the basic costs of rent, utilities, insurance and fees.
“Recently we have depleted our resources and exhausted our funds to keep the restaurant afloat,” Schomer and Kebede say in their GoFundMe campaign description. “This year is our first and we’ve found surviving has been a greater challenge than we anticipated. We are reaching out to the community that has been so excited to receive us to help us through the winter, and break through to the place that we need to be!”
The restaurant, which opened on Dec. 16, 2014, hasn’t yet developed the necessary customer base to support its operation. Revenue from the restaurant has been focused on keeping payroll supported for their 14 employees, according to Schomer.
“I feel like we’ve done a great job,” she reports. “We’ve had people from all across the U.S. tell us this is the best Ethiopian food they’ve ever had. We’ve done all the press we can do, we have a huge social networking presence, we’ve done fundraisers for Brother Wolf, we did VeganFest, we did a fundraiser for Ethiopian children in Ethiopia — we’ve just run out of ideas.”
Addissae’s struggles may come as a surprise to many, considering the excitement expressed by the community around its opening last December. Xpress readers had indicated an Ethiopian restaurant was the number one “Restaurant still needed in Asheville” in the annual Best of WNC poll for three consecutive years — from 2012 to 2014.
“We had a lot of people excited during the first month and a half,” says Kebede. “But then slowly, slowly, it just diminished.” He adds that the general public’s unfamiliarity with Ethiopian cuisine may account for the lack of business lately. “From my side, it’s usually that people don’t feel comfortable about the food. As much as we can, we try to make the best Ethiopian traditional food.”
Kebede notes that Addissae has tried to accommodate Asheville residents’ dietary requests in its menu. “People asked for organic options; most of our fare is organic. They wanted gluten-free bread, and we managed to do that,” he says. Despite their efforts, however, the returns haven’t provided enough financial support to keep the operation afloat.
“We’ve racked our brains over what’s happened because I think we’ve done a good job at doing everything we can do,” Schomer says. She wonders whether the idea of an Ethiopian restaurant in Asheville may have been more appealing to some than actually having one. “Maybe Ethiopian food is such a culturally specific food that a lot of people come and eat it once every four months. That’s fine, but maybe that means the demographics or population size of Asheville can not support a restaurant with those kind of figures.”
Reviews of Addissae on Facebook and Yelp also indicate that the restaurant has been well-received by patrons. Yelp reviewers gave Addissae 4 out of 5 stars on average, with reviewers commonly praising the restaurant’s vegetarian and vegan options and its decor and service.
On Facebook, where Addissae has received an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, one reviewer wrote, “This place is excellent. Our waitress was the sweetest and very knowledgeable. So happy Asheville is bringing more beautiful culture awareness here and I hope it continues and wish this restaurant continued success!”
But another reviewer, while expressing his satisfaction with his dining experience at Addissae, said that he likely wouldn’t be back anytime soon because “we live in a town with so many restaurants.”
Kebede concurs that downtown’s plethora of established restaurants may be making it harder for newcomers to gain a following.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming people — People always have the freedom to eat where they want to, to go out or not to go out,” says Kebede. “There’s a lot of choices here, and habit plays a big part of it.”
Kebede and Schomer originally moved to Asheville from the San Fransisco area to run the Asheville Green Cottage, a sustainable bed and breakfast in the St. Dunstan’s neighborhood, according to a Dec. 2014 Xpress article on Addissae’s opening. The couple hoped to not only share Ethiopian cuisine and culture with Asheville residents with the opening of Addissae, but also bring a taste of home to the seldom-recognized Ethiopian community living in this region.
Now, the couple are just hoping they can keep their establishment going through the winter off-season until business picks up in the spring.
“We really want to share the culture,” says Kebede. “Ethiopia is more than what people hear in the news. There a a lot of good things about Ethiopia, and I want to share that with people. I really love the restaurant — I hope it works out in the future.”