Like many restaurants, House of Tadu and Tadu Kitchen, two Ethiopian restaurants in San Francisco owned by Selamawet “Nani” Tsegaye and Elias Shawel, have suffered during the pandemic. Tsegaye and Shawel cut the hours of their ten part-time employees and Tsegaye worked without pay so they could get paid.
But then, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, writers in San Francisco published lists of black-owned businesses their readers should support. House of Tadu and Tadu Kitchen have appeared on several of them, including a list by Soleil Ho, the food critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, which went viral. Since then, Tsegaye Told SFGate, business increased by 200% and was able to rehire all of its full-time employees. Take-out queues are 30 strong and customers order directly through Tadu’s website instead of using third-party delivery apps, so all the money goes back to the restaurant. They also left $20 tips.
“We’ve been in business for five years and we’ve never seen this crowd,” Shawel said.
Shawel decided to open a restaurant when he was a new immigrant to the United States and was working as a taxi driver. When customers heard he was from Addis Ababa, they asked him to recommend Ethiopian restaurants, but he found there were none in San Francisco that met his standards. So he and Tsegaye opened their own seven-table restaurant in 2014 and named it after his grandmother. They opened House of Tadu, a second, larger location, three years later.
Except it wasn’t that simple.
“For [House of Tadu], we knew we wouldn’t get a loan from a conventional bank because of the color of our skin,” Tsegaye said. “And we tried and we didn’t succeed. We went through an association.
Tsegaye, who moved to the United States from Ethiopia as a teenager, realized that inequality was a part of life in this country and that she should move forward by bypassing institutions, like banks, which white people take for granted. “We always knew we were a minority-owned business and needed to find someone who helped our type of business,” she said. “In a way, it’s survival. You have to do it and then you do it so much and you don’t even realize you’re doing it.
Although her business is doing well now, she doesn’t want to pass that lesson on to her and Shawel’s children. “For my kids, I don’t want them to have to be calculating,” she said. “I don’t want them to have to work around the system. They don’t need to be for a second[-class] citizen in his own country. I have to fight for them.