My name is Adey Hagos. In 1982, I was born in Mekelle, the largest city in the Tigray Region of what is now the northernmost part of Ethiopia. One of six children (three boys and three girls), we had a comfortable upbringing as my father was a contractor who built houses as well as farmed.
After finishing high school, I came to the US in September of 2001 because there are so many more opportunities available here. I picked Oakland because my uncle, Tesfaye Gesese and his wife are Oakland residents and they said it was the best place to live.
I enrolled in the Job Corps program on Treasure Island where I trained to be an accountant. My introduction to life in the US was hard because of the English language — even though schools in Ethiopia are conducted in English from 9th grade on up. The other problem was that the lifestyle here is completely unfamiliar with what I grew up on. But all the young students I met there helped me transition into living with two very different cultural and social ways of life. That had a huge impact on my life and motivated me to overcome the barrier between two cultures and languages by working hard.
After finishing the Job Corps program, I attended Laney and Merritt Colleges where I mostly took science classes. In 2005, I met my husband, Harinet Sahale who is American-born. An Attorney, he works at the California Department of Transportation and also part-time at Highland Hospital. We have two boys, seven and eleven years old.
In 2009, I took classes that qualified me to work as a Laboratory Technician but when I applied for that job at Highland Hospital, the required medical tests showed that I was pregnant. Instead, I began thinking seriously about opening an Ethiopian restaurant. I was always interested in cooking and, as a child, learned the traditional recipes from my mother and grand-mother. Here in the US, while still a student, I began working at restaurants including seven years at Cafe Colucci and also part-time jobs at His Lordships and the Claremont Hotel.
The other reason that I very much wanted to open the restaurant was that my sister, Mebrat, arrived in 2010 and I wanted to have a place where she could work. We looked around for a location and finally found 462 Santa Clara — a small space that had been a Chinese restaurant for twenty-seven years. We opened in June 2010 and named it Cafe Romanat after a village with that name that’s five miles north of Mekelle. Growing up, we would often visit the massive waterfalls nearby that provide a pastoral oasis where family and friends gather to enjoy its bounty. It is in the spirit of Romanat Falls, coming together to share and enjoy, that Cafe Romanat was conceived.
After twelve years, we are disappointed that there isn’t more foot traffic on this short block and had considered moving to another location but the rent is affordable and during COVID, the landlord was wonderful and didn’t charge rent.
Instead, we expanded into the larger space next door several years ago and more recently, we obtained a liquor license so we can begin serving cocktails. In addition, we have an architect working on plans for the patio that will make for a more attractive entrance; add more outdoor seating and also provide wheelchair access.
Next, I want to open an Ethiopian Coffee House — not a restaurant, a traditional Ethiopian Coffee House.
Ken Katz says
Meeting with Adey and helping her put her story on paper was a privilege but one thing puzzled me. Namely, her insistence on specifying that she’s from the Tigray Region and her wanting to include “Selam” in the title–which means “Peace” in her native language. That finally made sense when I did some basic research and learned that Tigray has been an ongoing battleground for the past two years resulting in a massive humanitarian crisis. For all of Oakland’s challenges, it’s here that she’s found peace and she’s hopeful that the same will soon be the case in her homeland.
Menbere Aklilu says
What a beautiful article l enjoyed reading it.