Etete, one of DC’s most well-known Ethiopian restaurants, has closed after 14 years. Co-owner Yared Tesfaye says the family-run business will reopen in a few weeks as a completely different concept: 1942DC, a nightlife venue with cocktails, bar bites, hookah, and private event space.
“We’re just following the trend in that area. U Street has become Adams Morgan in many ways,” says Tesfaye. He adds the Ethiopian community and businesses that once convened around Ninth Street—once dubbed DC’s “Little Ethiopia”—have moved out to the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. “It’s changed big time.”
The Tesfaye family has witnessed the neighborhood’s transition over two decades. After immigrating from Addis to Washington in the early 90s, Henok Tesfaye opened a 30-space parking lot along U street in 1998 (that family business, now called U Street Parking, operates over 50 lots, from Nationals Park to Orlando, Florida). Yared and his brothers surprised their mother Tiwaltengus “Etete” Shenegelgn, then a chef at Fasika, with her own restaurant space in 2004. Etete (“Mama” in Amharic) served traditional Ethiopian cooking—some of DC’s best—for over a decade under the matriarch’s watch, until she was ready to retire last year. The family was faced with a tough choice: keep going without Etete herself, or try something new.
“It was very difficult to run without her soul, so we decided to go in a different direction,” says Tesfaye.
In March of 2017, the familyed transition the restaurant to a Ethiopian-fusion concept under a young new chef, Christopher Roberson. At the time, Tesfaye envisioned Etete 2.0 becoming a modernized, elevated version of its former self—“the Rasika of Ethiopian restaurants,” as he described in the Washington Post. Roberson, an alumni of Vidalia and Central, worked closely with Shenegelgn to reinvent her food while respecting its roots. But in the end, knife-and-fork kitfo tartare never drew the same crowd as Etete’s classic tibs eaten by hand.
Like many DC restaurateurs, Tesfaye points to several factors recently affecting business, including rapidly changing demographics and the new Wharf luring patrons away from established dining neighborhoods. He also says customers didn’t understand the modern-Ethiopian-fusion approach—and in hindsight, doesn’t blame them.
“We should have kept the food exactly as it was. All we needed to work on was the presentation and the service,” says Tesfaye.
When the space reopens at 1942 Ninth Street—hence the 1942DC name—it’ll look similar to Etete 2.0 with its hip, lounge-y feel, but cater to a nightlife crowd. Patrons can sip $13 cocktails like the Ward One with pineapple and jalapeno-infused tequila, and nibble international bar food from Roberson such as sliders or Thai chili wings. Those craving a taste of Etete will still be able to find traces. Tesfaye says they’ll bring back the Ethiopian-spiced mule as well as mother Etete’s tibs. The family saved the restaurant’s original sign for potential use down the road.
“We’re not completely gone,” says Tesfaye.