Sweet Asmara Cafe

In the past few years, a number of coffee shops and pastries have been flourishing at Harnet Avenue (the city’s main road).

It is natural for a certain business or organization to outstand others. Impressed by the quality of services and warm hospitality of one of these shops, we have decided to inquire and share with you its experience and history. The name of the place is Sweet Asmara Café; it was opened on April 2000 by a family deported from Ethiopia.

The head of the family, the late Mr. Mesfin Kidane, who passed away in the year 2002, was working with an Italian pastry expert at Torino Pastry, here in Asmara, some 50 years ago. It was then that Mr. Mesfin mastered the art of pastry making. Later, he left to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and by the help of family members he managed to open a small pastry around ‘Piasa’ area. It was there that Mr. Mesfin became famous for his work. First, the place was called ‘Aboy Cake Shop’ and later ‘Mesfenie Sweet Adarash’, which was popular for its service. In short while, Mr. Mesfin became one of the experts who contributed a great deal in introducing sweet pastry to the community of Addis Ababa.

“Surely, it is Ato Mesfin and Ato G/tinsa who introduced the consumption of pastry to the residents of Addis Ababa” said one elder who had lived in Addis Ababa for a long while.
Mr. Mesfin built two more shops and started vending pastry in a modern way to above 36 other pastries daily.

While providing such exceptional service and growing up each time, the Weyane regime afflicted Mr. Mesfin’s shop. Mr. Mesfin and his family, as usual, were working in their shop when they had some uninvited guests - the weyane solBdiers - and Mr. Mesfin was taken away from the shop. And his older son Berhane was also forcefully made to leave with the first batch of deportees. A month later, Mr. Mesfin and his wife Woizero Meaza and their twin children followed. They arrived in Asmara empty handed

Though the family lost its riches in a matter of few days and was pushed into poverty, they did not kneel down. They still had their talent with them! After getting some support from relatives and a loan from the government, the family started to build a small shop, truly God provides whenever there is a pit. Mr. Mesfin suddenly was aware of a vacant place ready for sale at the heart of the city - Harenet Avenue - the family bought that place and made it into Sweet Asmara café! They stared their old business in a new country with a renewed spirit.

When we asked the current head of the family, Mr. Berhane Mesfin, why he named the place Sweet Asmara Café, he explained “I was born and brought up in Addis Ababa, and I only had a visit to Asmara when I was very young and I don’t even remember that well. After my deportation, I had the opportunity to go around and see the beautiful city. What I used to hear about it proved true and I wanted my new shop to reflect this fact.” He then continues to talk about his feelings early at the time he was opening this café, “when I was given the license to the business, I was anxious. I have faith in my talents but the fact that this place lies in the main street of the city and that it needs to maintain the beauty and respect of the city and that I will need to keep my service up to the standard made me nervous. I was only a new comer; you know, while the place was under repair, I brought chairs, tables, tea cups and kitchen utensils from Italy. Then, I took a 4-month course in Italy, in the city of Bari in a popular pastry – Gardian - and I have been successful.

Mr. Berhane’s expertise in pastry is serving more than 36 kinds of cakes to its customers. He states that he is improving the kinds of pastry that used to be prepared during the period of Italian colonization and producing them at the moment.

Sweet Asmara café is also known for the exceptional hospitality that one gets from its expert waitresses, uniformed and serving swiftly.

Asmara sweet café is a living witness that ‘whoever strives succeeds’. Mr. Berhane, his wife, his father and his two sisters are always seen swamped with their individual tasks at the pastry. Such determination and hard work then gave birth to another café - “café Moderna”. This family, which came empty handed to Asmara started to flourish. Café Moderna was repaired and new machineries where brought in before it started service in Jan 2002. Mr. Berhane explained, “That time was a tough time for the family as our dear father, Mr. Mesfin, died just a few days before the opening day.” “He was a symbol of determination and hard work,” stated many who used to admire Mr. Mesfin.

Café Moderna was one of the popular Bar’s in Asmara during the period of Italian colonization. It was common to enjoy warm cup of coffee and hot chocolate during that time whenever u pass by. Mr. Berhane states he is working hard to keep this going. Mr. Berhane states there are more than 120 employees at the two cafes currently. He further explains that he prefers his employees to be new to the business of waitressing; this helps to plant his own principles of the job in the employees. Those employees are taught about proper hospitality, use of machines that are there, handling of pastry, proper uniform wearing; personal hygiene, keeping restroom clean and receiving of bills. “Each of our employees receives encouraging salary and work in two shifts,” Mr. Brhane stated. He also stated, as handling pastry is a delicate matter, every one takes extra care. It is preferable if pastries would not be kept for more than 6 hours. It also needs to have appropriate weight and should be of a reasonable price.

“What should one do in order to be successful in their business?” we asked Mr. Berhane. He simply stated that one should come early before everyone else and leave late after every one has besides being a role model to his workers.

“What do you want to say at last?” “As I’ve stated previously, we don’t only focus on the service providing but also on the architectural set-up of our cafés. I’ve to thank artist Ghidey for pouring his talent on this; both cafés have their looks from the expertly cut red-stone and woods. Artist Ghidey specifically brought an ingredient from Tsaeda-Kiristian and basically turned ‘mud into gold’. Beside this, Mr. Berhane states the beautiful imagetures of older buldings in Asmara - the cathedral, Hamasien Hotel, Al-kulafa’e a’rashidin, National bank and cinema Asmara are painted and hanged on the walls of Sweet Asmara café, put in beautiful frames. Café Moderna, which is built to symbolize “Hidmo”, is also full of traditional ornaments.
I finalized my chat with Mr. Berhane and sat at the veranda of café Moderna for a long while enjoying a dark macchiato. I even further admired the place for maintaining beauty and traditional value.

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