Every day after school, Helen Abraha, her sister Martha Taezaz and their siblings would do chores around their home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Each of the 10 children had a job to do, but Abraha would stay close to her mother to watch her cook.
“I just tried to copy her,” Abraha said. “And sometimes when she’s not home, I just want to cook for everybody. But she used to say no, no, no, no, you’re too young for that.”
With time, Abraha’s mother allowed her to cook, but with principle. She taught Abraha that cooking with flavor requires love and patience.
“Sometimes when you cook, if you cook just to rush and eat, sometimes it doesn’t taste amazing,” Abraha said. “You have to take your time, you have to enjoy stirring the pot, all the time for a couple of hours. That needs love.”
Abraha’s passion for cooking drove her, Taezaz and two other business partners to create Ebony, the first Ethiopian restaurant on the Central Coast.
Ebony began to serve customers in December from Benny’s Kitchen and then they moved to their new location in the Kitchen Terminal during the first week of January.
Abraha and Taezaz needed a larger kitchen to accommodate increasing orders.
Customers can direct-message Ebony’s Instagram to place an order, or order in-person at their location at 4750 Allene Way.
Ebony serves organic, vegan and gluten-free meals.
The chefs have adapted their mothers’ recipes with their updated culinary knowledge. For example, they use avocado oil in their misir wot recipe instead of the traditional spiced butter.
Their spicy misir wot recipe is a modified version of their mother’s. Misir wot is a lentil dish with caramelized onions, garlic, ginger and an Ethiopian spice called berbere.
Taezaz’s favorite dish at Ebony is shiro – a thick roasted chickpea paste made with shiro powder, cardamon, black pepper and garlic.
Customers can order up to three kinds of sauces with two injera, a fermented Ethiopian flat bread made with teff flour. Injera is typically used in place of a utensil to scoop up the sauces.
Taezaz said there aren’t any western flavors that compare to these Ethiopian flavors and spices.
“We make [injera] for small children, infants, when they start eating food,” Taezaz said. “That’s how we start teaching them to eat Ethiopian food with a sour injera. So that’s very mild, for me … suitable for anybody who’s trying Ethiopian food for the first time.”
Taezaz said she misses Ethiopia and the social aspect of food as she has noticed that people in the United States are very busy and don’t spend time sharing large meals.
“Ethiopian food is always about sharing,” Taezaz said. “And when we eat as children, we eat on one big plate. All types of sauces will be put there.”
Abraha said she finds that some of their customers are already familiar with Ethiopian food but some of them order food because it is vegan and gluten-free.
San Luis Obispo resident Ioana Cebulla visits Ebony at least once a week.
“I was very excited to have Ebony come here, not only for the food but also for the culture and the diversity,” Cebulla said. “I think we’re definitely missing that in San Luis Obispo.”
She said she was compelled to try Ebony because they served vegan food, and she eventually convinced her son, who is a picky eater, to try the food. He loved it.
Paisley Hamlin, an Ebony regular, had never tried Ethiopian food before ordering from Ebony.
Hamlin said she was attracted to the restaurant initially because of her dietary restrictions, and feels that this is a safe place to get food for herself. She has gone to Ebony nearly every week since they first opened.
“I would go more if I could afford it,” Hamlin said. “But it’s a treat that I can take and enjoy for two days.”
Hamlin usually gets a half order with shiro or spicy misir wot, and injera.
“You can really taste their hearts in their food. They really just want to do a good job. I appreciate them,” Hamlin said. “I’m super grateful that they’re open.”