By Christie Vogt
Rekik Abaineh is the chef and co-owner of Bolé Ethiopian Cuisine, a Como Park restaurant that was previously located in the Midway neighborhood.
In March, along with her husband Solomon Haile, Abaineh opened Bolé’s new location at 1341 Pascal St. N.
Q: What was the inspiration for the name Bolé, and how did you become interested in cooking?
A: Bolé is the neighborhood in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where my husband and I grew up. I grew up in a family of five. My father was an engineer, and my mom worked for the U.N.
We used to entertain a lot in our home, so, there was a lot of cooking, a lot of family members coming and going. So that’s one of the reasons why I love cooking. My mother was a very good cook, so that’s how I learned. My father learned how to cook as well, eventually, so we used to cook and bake together.
Q: What brought you to Minnesota?
A: I have family members in Minnesota, and probably a year after I came here, I met my husband, Solomon.
My husband went to school for graphic design, but he also works as a DJ. He used to host parties at The Red Sea, a restaurant in Minneapolis, and he got to know the owners very well. About 10 years ago, they offered us the opportunity to run the restaurant. Solomon is a very good businessman, and he used to tell the owners that I was a good cook. After five years, we decided to open our own restaurant, and that’s how we started Bolé.
Q: Bolé, at its original Midway location, was working to adapt during the initial months of Covid-19. Then, the building was destroyed by a fire during the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. What was that period like for you?
A: It was hard because we had to let go of most of our employees during Covid. Later, we started doing to-go orders and things were OK for the business. Then, after the civil unrest and the place burning down, it was very difficult to swallow what had happened.
But, we have two daughters and they had to stay home during Covid, and it was very difficult for them. My husband and I were both working—leaving early in the morning and coming home late in the evening. So, it was a lot of stress for the girls; they had so many things going on, and suddenly everything was just shut down.
Then, after the fire, suddenly we’re home, and I can see that the girls are happy we’re home. It really helped them mentally. For me, it was like, maybe the reason the place burned down was because I was much more needed at home than at work.
Q: Community members donated more than $150,000 through a GoFundMe campaign to help Bolé rebuild. How did that make you feel?
A: It was overwhelming, honestly, because we did not expect that kind of response. Then, we were like, “OK, we need to come up with a solution and start all over again.”
In December, we found the new space, and the first day I looked at it, I said, “This is the place for us.” It felt like home, like I’d been there before.
I’m so glad this is the place we found because the neighborhood is amazing. We did a tasting day in March and about 200 people came. They loved the new decor, the new vibe. They liked the food, and it was interesting for them to see a different culture. Now, the neighborhood is like a family to us.
Q: How would you describe Ethiopian cuisine?
A: Ethiopian cuisine is very flavorful because we use a lot of spices. It has a lot of vegan options because all our vegetarian dishes are vegan.
Most people in the Christian community in Ethiopia have fasting periods around 200 days per year where they only eat veggies, so we have a lot of options when it comes to vegetarian dishes.
The other thing that makes us different is we have this bread called injera. We use injera to eat all the dishes; it’s like your fork and spoon. In Ethiopia, it’s made out of teff, which is like a millet, and it’s gluten-free, so people love that.
Another thing that makes us different is, in Ethiopia, usually food is served in one big plate or tray and everyone eats together.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with your new neighbors?
A: The restaurant business is very stressful because you want everyone to go home happy. The reason we stay in this business is because we love the service. We love seeing people being happy and enjoying the food. I think the best thing for anyone is to make other people happy, so we try to give that every day with what we do.
Christie Vogt is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Bugle.