Ethiopian Restaurant Adds Distinctiveness To South Moger Avenue In Mt. Kisco

Restaurant owner discusses her story and restaurant
Ethiopian Restaurant Adds Distinctiveness to South Moger Avenue in Mt. Kisco
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Every time a business closes in a downtown Westchester area, part of the soul of the said city escapes into oblivion. Even more so when its replacement operates in accordance with Wall Street rather than the pulse of the community that supports it. In turn, with ever rising rents and all the financial upheaval, says Mt. Kisco small business owner Selamawit Tesfaye, "Now, there's a bank on every corner." But that doesn't mean Mt. Kisco hasn't held its own against the big boxes and she's definitely doing her part in keeping alive the distinctiveness of this Northern Westchester town.

"I serve

traditional Ethiopian food," says the owner of Lalibela on 37 South Moger Avenue.

She best describes the food from her native land as similar to Indian. "I tell people its mostly beef, lamb and chicken slowly cooked into stews with spices," she says.

A little less on the zest than Indian food, Lalibela dishes out the entree in traditional Ethiopian form. "We eat off the same plate," she says, and a bread called injera sort of serves as the utensil.

Of course, if hands-on isn't your style, customers can opt out with a fork but eating by example turns out to be a good way to get kids interested in something other than hamburgers and grilled cheese. "Getting to use their hands," she says, "kids seem to like that."

She obviously has had a taste and touch for this since childhood and first learned how to prepare these dishes at home. The proof came full circle in her mother's first visit last month to Lalibela from Ethiopia. Despite the maternal pride that couldn't be denied, mother may still have been reluctant to pass the baton. Surprised, says Tesfaye, "She didn't think I could cook this well."

Nonetheless, opening her own business was always a dream and settling in America gave her the best chance to realize the possibility. Arriving in 1995, she had to get her business bearings first. "I used to think coffee shops because Ethiopia is known for coffee but there were Starbucks everywhere," she says.

Working at the Crab Tree Kittle House for nine years as a waitress, bartender and all else they had, gave the future entrepreneur the restaurant experience needed and customer curiosity about Ethiopian food focused her on the right venue. "Most people asked me about Ethiopian food so I thought maybe a small Ethiopian

restaurant in Mt. Kisco would work," she says.

She considered her home town of Irvington but decided the downtown area too small, while White Plains was avoided for just the opposite. Mt. Kisco slid nicely in as a middle ground but a special affinity also contributed to the destination she arrived at two years ago. "I came first to Mt. Kisco from my country, and I like the place and the people so I said why not," she recalled.

That said, she was certainly aware of the high rents and the large Moger Street turnover that has been all too common. "So far, it's been alright," she says. "We're making it."

And she senses Mt. Kisco understands the importance of a vibrant, independent downtown, but tucked in off the Avenue she has no problem being out of sight (and sound) of the foot traffic. "A lot of first time customers say they didn't realize we were here, but they're happy to leave all the noise behind from the main drag," she says.

What they take, though, is what she likes most about running Lalibela. "Introducing people to Ethiopian food and having them try it and like it - that's what gives me the most satisfaction.

In turn, she takes the difficulty of 13 hour days in stride. "They say it gets easier after two years so I'm looking forward to that," she says,"but it's been good."

Mt. Kisco is probably glad to hear it and since a debit card will do, maybe Lalibela can have a hand in opening up one of those street corners to something that adds as much to the community as Lalibela has.

Lalibela is open every day for Lunch and Dinner Except Monday.

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