Serving the sisterhood: Temsalet Kitchen in Ethiopia

SNAPSHOTS FROM ADDIS Ahead of the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) in Ethiopia in October, Pioneers Post explored Addis Ababa to meet some of those entrepreneurs balancing money and mission. Temsalet Kitchen not only offers great food, social events and catering, but also trains vulnerable women to become its cleaners, cooks, waitresses and managers. We popped in for lunch and a chat with one of the founders.

Temsalet Kitchen in Addis Ababa offers sisterhood on a plate. The Taytu Firfir – a spicy beef dish – is named after Ethiopia’s Empress Taytu who helped see off the Italians during the 1896 Battle of Adwa. And Asnakech Shiro – a beef and chickpea curry with egg – honours Asnakech Worku, a famous singer sometimes dubbed Ethiopia’s Edith Piaf.

Dining at Temsalet Kitchen Ethiopian social enterprise

This theme of sisterhood runs throughout the entire operation. Temsalet Kitchen was set up by three young women who, after two of them had completed their degrees in gender studies, wanted to do something practical to support some of the city’s most vulnerable women.

Feteh and Tigist of Temsalet Kitchen Ethiopian social enterpriseOver the hubbub of lunchtime diners, co-founder Feteh Asrat (pictured, left) and business partner Tigist Workineh (right) explain. “We were brainstorming,” says Feteh, “and what’s the one thing that all women know how to do? It’s cooking.”

One of the three, Samira Messner, was the driving force behind the idea and she invested 500,000 Ethiopian birr (around £14,000) of her own money. With volunteers helping to decorate and fit out the premises, the restaurant opened in 2015. Its aim is to train and employ struggling young women to become the restaurant’s cleaners, cooks, waitresses and managers.

And today, four years on, it’s thriving. The menu is a mixture of Ethiopian and European food – spicy stews accompanied by spongy injera bread (a national staple), pizzas, salads and wraps. And the raw wood tables and colourful cushions combine to give it an upmarket yet cosy appeal that attracts local office workers as well as visitors from outside the city. Special events, such as card game nights and book launches, take place regularly and the business also offers external catering services.

Thirty women have been trained so far, and the number employed right now stands at 23 (a few have left after having children). As Feteh points out, “Our country is difficult for every kind of woman”, but the founders prefer to target women who really need a hand up, like 25-year-old single mother Tensaya. 

Tensaya at Temsalet KitchenTensaya (left) sits with us for a few minutes and shyly answers our questions in Amharic with Feteh translating. “I didn’t have a job,” she says, “I was at home. And a girl who used to work here told me about this place, a growing place where you could be taken care of and she told me I could start working here.”

Tensaya adds that she started as a cleaner three years ago, and has worked her way up to assistant chef. “I know I’m capable of doing the things I want. I’ve met good people and I’ve got friends,” she says. The income also means that she can save in case of any emergencies.

And what future does she see for her eight-year-old daughter? “I want her to be a doctor.”

Temsalet employees not only get on-the-job training, but there’s also a scholarship fund for night classes. And the Temsalet support extends to women outside the restaurant too – the organisation has given a loan of 10,000 birr (£280) to a single mother to set up her own injera business, enabling her to become Temsalet’s injera supplier. It has donated 6,000 birr (£170) to a woman who shines shoes on the street to build a shade over her stall and expand her work. And it donates money to a local single mother who arranges meals for more than 100 children at an Addis school.

Temsalet Kitchen Ethiopian social enterprise

Temsalet Kitchen highlights its values to all its customers


In spite of all this success, Feteh explains that huge challenges remain. There’s enough money coming in to pay the staff that they have, and they have also begun to pay back the investment from their co-founder, but the founders and partners still can’t take a salary of their own. 

As social enterprise does not have a distinct legal form or much recognition in Ethiopia, there are practical challenges too such as how to account for donations as well as explaining the concept to the public. 

“Some people expect our food to be cheaper because we’re ‘for the people’,” says Feteh. Temsalet is searching for a professional chef and operations manager, but struggling to find the right people because they don’t understand the business, she adds.

Lunch at Temsalet Kitchen Ethiopian social enterprise

Pioneers Post's lunch in Addis: Mishierya Combo, including Ethiopia's famous injera bread (right)


These challenges haven’t thwarted their ambitions though. The restaurant’s current location, set well back from the main road in the Old Airport district, is difficult for people to find, so Tigist suggests they’d like to open another venue where there is more passing trade. And Feteh sees growth of their catering operation as being key to being able to employ more women. 

“If we don’t support our sisters in need, then no-one else will,” she says. 

And – she adds – she has a wider vision for Ethiopian women. “I wish to see Ethiopian women have equal opportunities in education, work and social life,” she says. “I want our country to be women-friendly, where abuse and violations are greatly mitigated. Every parent, teacher and community should invest equally in their girl children.”

Workers at Temsalet Kitchen Ethiopia

Photos: Anna Patton

SEWF 2019 Ethiopia