Devoted customers of Zenebech groaned last October when the longtime Ethiopian restaurant in Shaw closed to make way for a new apartment building from Monument Realty. But the popular eatery’s owners knew they wouldn’t disappoint for long.
“The plan was always to reopen,” co-owner Mike Demissie told The Current. “Given that it’s a family business, we wanted to continue seeing it grow in operation, partly because the Ethiopian food scene in the D.C. area is pretty good. We were confident we could do well.”
Later this month or early next, that hope will become reality, as Zenebech opens its doors at a larger, more aesthetically pleasing facility at 2420 18th St. NW in Adams Morgan. The food — including its signature homemade bread, “injera” — will be the same, but returning customers will notice a few differences: a full bar, more wall art and “a nicer atmosphere,” according to Demissie.
“At our previous location a lot of thought hadn’t gone into the atmosphere, so it was just very plain. We mainly focused on the food and tried to provide the best food we could,” Demissie said. “This time in addition to that, we’re also investing into the atmosphere. It’ll look really nice for the customers.”
The biggest difference, of course, is the location. Zenebech has moved more than a mile west from its former home at 608 T St. NW. After closing in Shaw, Demissie and his mother, co-founder Zenebech Dessu, visited around seven locations and looked at 10 to 15 others online before settling on the space on 18th Street. They briefly considered Cleveland Park but eventually decided it was too far from their roots.
The restaurant started as a bakery at 11th and V streets NW in 1993, shortly after Dessu and her husband emigrated from Ethiopia. Once it developed a following, Dessu and her husband Gebrehanna Demissie added the Shaw location, initially only for takeout.
“That’s partly why it wasn’t such a fancy restaurant,” Demissie said. “It was a bakery that served really good food. It continued to grow on its own organically.”
For many in D.C., it eventually became a favorite among the area’s Ethiopian restaurants. In Shaw, Demissie could often be seen greeting customers while his mother toiled away in the kitchen.
The family had hoped to open in Adams Morgan earlier this month, but a typical blend of permitting and construction delays pushed that date back to late July or early August. Final health inspections and “small touch-up renovations” are in progress now, according to Demissie, who lives with his parents in Silver Spring and operates the restaurant with Dessu and his brother Surafal.
The Adams Morgan spot proved a winner with the family because of its proximity to a host of other restaurants. Recent openings nearby include Rosario Italian Restaurant at 2435 18th St. NW and Meze next door at 2437 18th. Demissie and Dessu also liked that the neighborhood was at the center of D.C.’s Ethiopian community a few decades ago.
One other factor, according to Demissie: “affordable rent — well, fair rent.”