Lucy Ethiopian Café sees continued support amid Black Lives Matter movement

A dish served at Lucy Ethiopian Café.

Photo courtesy Lucy Ethiopian Café

A dish served at Lucy Ethiopian Café.

Matt Yan, news staff

At Lucy Ethiopian Café, food acts as cross-cultural dialogue: a way to connect customers to a culture and cuisine that may be unfamiliar to them. As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country, this meaningful dialogue is as relevant as ever. 

Owners Girmay Ziegay and Netsanet Woldesenbet – a couple who immigrated from Ethiopia about 20 years ago – opened Lucy Ethiopian Café in 2010 on a whim, converting the former bar space into a full restaurant. What began as a small operation soon grew due to demand, and Ziegay and Woldesenbet began expanding the menu. 

The food at Lucy, Woldesenbet said, is purely authentic –– it’s exactly what her grandparents made her as a child. 

“I cook the same way [that] I cook in my house,” she said. “Some places cater the food to the society or the customer, but if you come to [Lucy], I really want to serve the food that I eat.”

The food is fresh: everything is made from scratch. All of the dishes – vegetarian, vegan, lamb or beef – are sautéed or stewed. Nothing is fried, and most dishes are served with injera, a traditional fermented flatbread. The dishes contain natural ingredients and aromatics like ginger, garlic and onion. “It’s healthy,” Woldesenbet said. 

Like so many businesses, though, Lucy has been hit hard by COVID-19. However, the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent push to support Black-owned small businesses has helped places like Lucy Ethiopian Café stay afloat. 

Lucy is still take-out only and summer is typically a slower season, so support for the café is more important as ever. Small businesses are like the backbone of the community, Woldesenbet said.

“[As a Black-owned small business], we don’t have the resources or support system –– there are so many things we don’t know,” Woldesenbet said. “Because of this movement, we have connected with a lot of Black-owned businesses. It brings strength and [creates] a network for each other.”

By fostering these connections, Lucy Ethiopian Café and other Black-owned businesses have gained the ability to share resources, forming their own support system. 

As immigrants and members of the Black community, though, challenges often still impede Ziegay and Woldesenbet for their small business. 

“I feel like it’s a challenge as a foreigner and Black-owned business to take advantage of what’s out there,” Woldesenbet said. “The system is designed for helping a certain demographic.” 

As a mom of two boys, ages 11 and 14, the Black Lives Matter movement is extremely important not just for the café but also for her family. 

“Watching the videos of George Floyd and Breonna [Taylor], it’s like a call to action for all of us,” she said. “We went to a couple of protests with our boys to try to make sure our voice is heard, not only as a business but as a Black person –– as a human being.” 

As police brutality toward Black Americans continues and people like Floyd, Taylor and Elijah McClain are murdered by police officers, Woldesenbet said she fears for her children’s safety. 

“I worry every day, especially recently, when they walk out of the door,” she said. “Now, I worry [that] one day, this could be one of them, one of us or one of our relatives.” 

Through all of the current events, the goal of Lucy Ethiopian Café remains: to offer delicious food but also bring a new culture to the area, introducing students, professors and locals to Ethiopian culture. 

“We teach a bit of history about Ethiopia,” Woldesenbet said. 

Through their food, language and art on display, dining at the café is like an educational experience. 

At the café, everyone eats family-style, sharing the meal. While this is on pause because of COVID-19, family-style meals are still at the heart of the restaurant, and it is a clear representation of how their food often brings people together. 

“People eat from one table with [their] hands, and [they] share everything,” Woldesenbet said. “That kind of experience brings a lot of family, friendship and community.” 

Lucy Ethiopian Café is located at 334 Massachusetts Ave. They are currently open for takeout and delivery. 

This story marks the beginning of a series within the city section, which will be exploring the stories of Black-owned small businesses surrounding Northeastern and throughout the Boston area.