Ethiopian Coffee Shops Sprout Up Across The US …Thanks to Starbucks

Avatar
Written by Staff

By Merc Lewis | From The Ethiopian Herald via AllAfrica

The chain is a punching bag for those who distrust big business, but it has helped revolutionize the US coffee scene and paved the way for smaller businesses to flourish. Three years ago, Elias Gurmu and his wife, Sarina Prabasi, spotted a shuttered shoe repair shop in their new Manhattan neighbourhood. They had moved only a year earlier from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. And they thought the tiny vacant space was the right spot for an Ethiopian coffee shop.

Their gentrifying pocket of Washington Heights, dubbed “Hudson Heights” by realtors, had no coffee houses despite New York City’s more than 280 Starbucks and a slew of small boutique coffee chains like Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Blue Bottle Coffee. The closest speciality coffee shop, a Starbucks, was a seven-minute walk south, a world away by New York City standards.

Gurmu, a serial entrepreneur, and Prabasi, both 42 years old, took a gamble. They invested their savings, bolstered by personal credit cards, to open the street-level Café Buunni.

It’s the only Ethiopian-owned (technically co-owned, as Prabasi is originally from Nepal) and -run coffee shop in New York City. But it’s one of a dozen coffee houses that have been popping up across the country, including in Chicago; Washington, DC; Minnesota’s Twin Cities; and San Francisco.

The trend is a sign of the growing number of Ethiopian immigrants in the US. It’s also a testament to the country’s gourmet coffee revolution. And that, Prabasi says, is thanks – at least partly – to Starbucks.

Among coffee aficionados and those who love to hate big business, Starbucks is a popular punching bag. When its shops first burst onto the US scene in 1994, Starbucks was considered a funky new coffee house concept from Seattle, home of Nirvana and grunge music.

Twenty years later, with approximately 11,450 locations in the US alone, it’s often thought of as soulless, its cachet a few notches above McDonald’s. Plenty of small coffee shops feared they would end up closing when Starbucks came to town – the company faced protests on some towns, as well as complaints from smaller competitors – but fear of operating near a Starbucks has largely dissipated.

Among coffee aficionados and those who love to hate big business, Starbucks is a popular punching bag. When its shops first burst onto the US scene in 1994, Starbucks was considered a funky new coffee house concept from Seattle, home of Nirvana and grunge music.

A neighbourhood sensation

Unlike the nearby Washington Heights Starbucks, Café Buunni has a distinct neighbourhood feel. The full-bodied aromas of Yirgacheffe, Harrar, Limu and other prized Ethiopian coffees have long replaced the smells of leather and shoe polish. The towering Gurmu is often stationed behind the gleaming espresso machine, young baristas working around him.

Read more at AllAfrica