City Heights Bites: Red Sea Ethiopian
Shimeles Kibret came to America more than 35 years ago, leaving Ethiopia amid political persecution. He didn’t speak much English and didn’t have a degree, but within just two years, he had saved enough money to be part of a group of Ethiopian immigrants who opened Red Sea, one of the first Ethiopian restaurants in the region.
He took over as owner a few years after that.
“Whenever I meet the customer, they love to come here,” Kibret told KPBS, sitting in the parking area he’s now transformed into an outdoor dining area.
Kibret runs the restaurant with his wife, Yetanyet Abebe. They’ve seen generations of San Diego residents pass through their doors, celebrating graduations, birthdays, and watching soccer, and taking seats around a large communal plate.
Kibret credits fresh ingredients for giving his food the edge in what has become a much more crowded Ethiopian restaurant scene in San Diego.
“People most of the time are eating our veggies. It’s very healthy. Most of the food is organic,” he said.
But the past year has been hard during the pandemic -- he had to close indoor and outdoor dining during public health shutdowns, and he let some staff members go, meaning that for much of this time, it has been just him and his wife.
It was emergency loans from the county that kept his business afloat, along with the kindness of his customers, who have often paid the restaurant far more than what they were being charged.
“If I close the restaurant, I’m going to be hurting myself,” Kibret said. “Because they love this place, and they become a family. They keep calling me, telling me. ‘Shimeles, please don’t close, be strong. I know you are strong.’ I say, ‘ok, don’t worry about it’.”
Now Kibret says he’s feeling a lot more confident that he’ll be able to stay in business and continue welcoming in customers for injera, fresh veggies, chicken tibs, and afterwards, some strong coffee - to make sure you don’t blissfully nod off on your voyage home.