Downtown Ethiopian restaurant Goorsha opened sister cafe and lounge Gojo directly behind the restaurant in October
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HANNAH LEE
The traditional jebena buna experience isn’t exactly pandemic-friendly.
In normal times, the Ethiopian coffee-drinking ritual takes more than an hour, filled with flair and frankincense and a whole roasting process. With indoor gatherings largely off-limits due to COVID-19 – and outdoor ones becoming increasingly difficult as temperatures drop – that isn’t quite possible. So, Fasil Tesfaye (pictured) adjusted. Much like making coffee itself, Fasil distilled that lengthy jebena buna down to a travel-friendly, grab-and-go endeavor.
Not what he originally intended, of course – but then again, neither was the creation of his new cafe, Gojo. Located just behind Goorsha, the cafe (and its new coffee) were born out of the ongoing pandemic, answers to viability questions that Fasil and restaurant owners everywhere now face.
“Most of us, especially ethnic restaurants … go in[to the restaurant industry] with passion, not so much of having the education in terms of the culinary arts,” Fasil says. “You just bring in what you know. So that part of understanding how you can survive this kind of event is a huge learning curve. We had to adapt very quickly.”
At the start of the pandemic, Fasil went to work with his dear friend, Laura Thomas, to turn what had been Goorsha’s event space into its own unique concept. That meant repainting the walls, constructing new dining tables and redesigning the entire outdoor area to fit nearly 50 people. All in all, it took about six months before he officially opened Gojo in late October.
The food is slightly different from what you’ll find at Goorsha in the evenings. The menu – still heavy on the traditional berbere spice blend found in most Goorsha dishes – just offers a quicker, more convenient way of taking those heat-filled flavors on the go. Think paninis and vegan or protein-based bowls. We recommend the Gojo, a panini named after the cafe. It features chicken, roasted red pepper, provolone and awaze pesto sauce (a spicy, reddish spread).
More unique to the cafe, and quite possibly to anywhere else in the state, is the jebena buna, which is as much a cultural experience as it is a culinary one. That’s not to say the regular to-go coffee isn’t perfect for a punchy morning pick-me-up; Ethiopian coffee beans never fail in that category. But jebena coffee, which is to be shared by four people, is a not-to-be-missed item from this new spot hidden behind Goorsha.
“I’m hoping in the future to have one day where we have a regular coffee ceremony, where we do the whole thing every week,” Fasil says. “People can come and just relax, and be a part of it.”
Fasil hopes customers come for the engaging, new experience at his coffee shop, jebena or not. He knows how much people crave peace of mind and human interaction, especially in these times. He’s provided a space – open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. – just for that.
And in due time, as the threat of the pandemic lessens and winter passes, there will be plenty of room for jebena buna.