Former African Taxi Driver Turns Her Successful Restaurant Over To Her Sons

Masswana Restaurant Manager, Yohanes Tekestes, on his parents exodus from conflict-ridden Eritrea to taking the reigns of the family business.  

Almaz Ghebrezgabher, Co-Owner, Massawa Restaurant, is feeling a great sense of relief.  After 30 years of cooking and managing the East African, Massawa Restaurant, with her husband, Amanuel Tekeste, she is expanding the restaurant, and turning the business over to her four children.

She has trouble articulating her happiness and feelings of accomplishment but when we watch her on the video, we share in her joy.

Almaz Ghebrezgabher, Co-Owner, Massawa Restaurant, goes over plans for the expansion of her restaurant she founded with her husband, Amanuel Tekeste, with her son and manager, Yohanes Tekestes.

Ghebrezgabher and her husband, left conflict-ridden Eriteria after the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in a military coup in 1974.  After a few years in Italy,  Ghebrezgabher learned the language and honed her cookings skills, and moved to New York City to be with her husband.  She drove a taxi to make ends meet.  

While she was driving around the city, she was spotted a vacant storefront on Amsterdam Avenue and 120th St that would be an ideal home for the restaurant she dreamed of opening.  Speaking very little English and having meager savings, but abundant determination, she and her husband secured a lease and opened Massawa Restaurant in 1988.

Thirty years later, the relentless hard work of Ghebrezgabher and Tekeste paid off for the couple and their four children.  Because the couple didn’t go to school, education was a priority in their household, and all four of their children are college graduates.

Her son, Yohanes Tekestes, has a degree in economics and once considered teaching as a profession, but is committed to the family business.  “My life and family is the restaurant,” he said.  He manages the restaurant with his brothers in New York City and his sister consults over the phone from her home in Chicago.

After joining the Small Business Intensive Education Program at the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Center, Tekestes developed the plan to take one of the restaurant’s most popular items, Shiro, to grocery stores.

The crowd-pleaser, Shiro, a vegan appetizer launching soon in grocery stores.

We asked Tekestes what he would tell other small business owners like him.  “Ask for help.  There is a lot of support out there.  It could be state, city, friends, family.  Ask around.  You will be surprised how much you learn and how people want to help you succeed.  Just ask for help and you will get it.”

For Harlem residents who are small business owners, check out the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Center.  It’s free for participants making the program the best deal in town.

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