Khadija Ali’s restaurant in Ankara, the Turkish capital, is a success in more ways than one. She both promotes dishes from the Horn of Africa and employs immigrant women like her.
The Ethiopian entrepreneur moved to Ankara in 2018 and opened Blue Nile, the city’s first and only Ethiopian restaurant, serving traditional cuisine with all its spices and condiments, including injera, the Ethiopian sour flatbread .
“My late husband was of Turkish origin. He was a senior official in an Ethiopian company. That’s where we met, married and had a good life,” she said. “Usually we used to come to Turkey for holidays,” she said, adding that unfortunately her husband fell ill in Ethiopia and was diagnosed with cancer. “It took it away from us last year,” she said.
Despite the impact of COVID-19 on her business and the other obstacles she endured, Khadija never considered returning home. Instead, she is determined to work hard and make her dream come true by opening more branches of her restaurant in Turkey.
The restaurant, located in the heart of Ankara, serves not only Ethiopian cuisine but also Ethio-Turkish, Somali, Djiboutian, Sudanese and Eritrean dishes, which have many cultural similarities. “I cook Turkish food in an Ethiopian style, and Turkish customers who come love our food,” she explained.
The decision to launch the restaurant came not only from the need to take care of her family, but also from Khadija’s desire to share the flavors of her East African heritage. Through the restaurant, she hopes to pursue her passion for cooking and baking by opening new branches across Turkey. “I am the only one cooking Ethiopian sour flatbread in Turkey. And I plan to export it to Europe,” Khadija said. “I have dedicated my life and I will not stop until I achieve my dream of having a world-class restaurant serving East African cuisine,” she said. .
Khadija said she normally works 16-hour days to keep the restaurant running, adding that she is restructuring it into a family business with the help of her younger brother and sister. “My brother and I cook together here. We both took hotel management courses, worked in 5-star hotels in Ethiopia and owned a restaurant there,” she said.
Noting that she feels a sense of belonging to Ankara, Khadija said: “I have two daughters, one is 6 years old and the other is 8 years old. I want my children to grow up here. Turkey is very nice and clean. a Turkish citizen.”
Before her husband’s death, Khadija had made him promise that their children would be raised by her mother, she said. “Now the children are at their grandmother’s, we only see each other during the holidays. My husband’s family also helps me because I earn my living here,” she says.
Many Ethiopians in the city admire Khadija’s kindness and support for others who have been financially affected by the pandemic. “She gave away her restaurant’s stocks to those who ran out of food and money during the pandemic,” said Mahir Mohammed, a student from Ankara who worked with Khadija during the pandemic. “When we have personal problems, like needing money, she lends it to us, even if she is not much richer than us… If we want to find a job, she tries to reach out to her relationships and finding a job for us,” Samrawit, one of the Ethiopian residents of Ankara, told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Monday.
“His restaurant is like a second home to us,” she added.
Shortly after opening his restaurant, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Turkey and that year Ankara began its first and longest lockdown. The pandemic has affected her business in unexpected ways, the mother of two said.
As an immigrant, becoming familiar with Turkish culture and learning the language are additional challenges in already difficult circumstances. To make matters worse, her husband died five months after launching the restaurant, which had already been affected by the pandemic lockdown. “There were times when I couldn’t pay the bills and I took on a lot of debt during the pandemic. But I didn’t give up. I got a loan, paid off some of my debt and continued to operate my restaurant,” she explained. . Although business is improving, the pandemic has had a significant financial impact, she added.
When she first opened the restaurant, she employed seven workers. Now she employs four since things slowed due to the unhealed economic effects of COVID-19.