By Nicole Koster
Just off the corner from the Orleans Parish Court House is Addis NOLA, an Ethiopian Kitchen celebrating authentic East African cuisine. Founded and owned by Dr. Biruk Alemayehu, she, her husband and son, Dr. Jamie Lobo and Prince Lobo, run the restaurant dedicated to connecting the New Orleans community to Ethiopian culture and cuisine.
Her son Prince mainly handles PR and communications for Addis NOLA, but also acts as a host, runs food and works where ever he is needed in the restaurant. He says while his mother was a student at Southern University of Baton Rouge in 2009, she enjoyed attending international events hosted by the University but it brought to light that Southeast Louisiana was lacking a proper eatery for recognizing her homeland. She would showcase some of her own Ethiopian recipes to share her heritage at the events. It was there she had the idea to open her own restaurant one day. Over the years of managing motherhood and work life, she finally made the dive into the food service industry, and scooped up a location at S. Broad and Tulane Avenue in 2019.
“This is essentially her love letter to New Orleans,” Prince said. “To have a place to showcase the flavors and food from her homeland of Ethiopia.”
Dr. Alemayehu is originally from a region near the Entoto Mountains. She grew up on a military base in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa until she was 14, and then moved to be educated in the Czech Republic after political conflict broke out in her country. Her father, a former royal guard of the then Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, passed away defending his country. She met her now husband, Jamie, there in the Czech Republic, who is from Angola. The couple traveled back to Angola after living in Portugal for some time, where Prince was then born. This rich rooted history of her family is the biggest inspiration for bringing Addis Ababa to New Orleans, thus Addis NOLA.
Prince and his parents are bridging the food culture of Ethiopia to the Southern hospitality of New Orleans. Though halfway across the globe from each other, there are a world of similarities between the two cultures.
“We understand New Orleans to be the culinary and hospitality capital of the nation, and I think the way people live in Ethiopia is directly aligned with that,” Prince said. “The shared aspects of how deep their culture is, and how flavorful the food is, and the overall spirit of the people, I think we are a great bridge between both of those cultures and people.”
Addis NOLA and their team of employees work as a well-oiled machine seven days a week to bring the Ethiopian dining culture to life for hungry guests. Upon walking through the doors, one is immersed in Ethiopian traditions. From the Tej honey wine, to the handwoven wicker mesobs, a breadbasket that is interchangeably used as a communal dining table as well as an injera bread storing utensil, to the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, Addis NOLA is a heaping serving of Ethiopia in New Orleans. The coffee ceremony is very close to his heart, says Prince. Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee. Making the coffee all in the same moment is an important touch on their dining experience.
“This is a tradition that pays homage to the origins of coffee in the world, how culturally it has impacted the way of life in Ethiopia, and the people who live there,” Prince said. “Whenever we roast the coffee for the house that’s reiterating that essence of welcoming people into our home,” Prince said. “It blesses the spirits of the guests who come, essentially like a sage stick practice, like many people are familiar with.”
There is a strong sense of personal connection in Ethiopian dining, like using your hands with the injera flatbread to eat everything on your plate, shared with your family and friends. Addis NOLA offers a gluten-free injera bread, vegetarian options and meat for all palettes. The menu showcases traditional kitfo, sambusas (lentil, beef or collard green hand pies), tibs and wot, served alongside options like cooked lentils, collards and beets. There is also shrimp, and whole fried red snapper, Prince’s favorite dish. The fusion of traditional and modern flavors honors Ethiopia, and also the Gulf of Mexico and its abundance of fresh seafood.
“My mother holds down the traditional Ethiopian cuisine and I handle pushing more modern, local and sustainable recipes,” said Prince. “We are in New Orleans, so we have to use the gold that we have out here, so we take the Gulf seafood and use traditional Ethiopian cooking processes and incorporate other flavors from other regions of Ethiopia.”
Dr. Alemayehu juggles restaurant life, family life and work life seamlessly her son says. With a strong sense of humbleness and humility instilled in her from a young age, transitioning from professor to food entrepreneur was natural. She spent 12 years as a professor at SUNO, and currently Dr. Alemayehu works for Go Propeller , a non-profit supporting and growing entrepreneurs to tackle social and environmental disparities.
“She loves to harness her inner Oprah, she is very philanthropic in that way,” Prince said. “She harnesses that energy, even kind of that same elegance of Michelle Obama. I see a lot of resemblances between the both of their statures. She is in that class of woman.”
Above all else, Addis NOLA’s top priority is to engage New Orleans with ancient Ethiopian culture and to bring people together regardless of backgrounds, focusing on making a positive change. Prince is proactive in making positive changes in his community by constantly networking and learning from other food professionals in the region. He and his parents regularly patronize local restaurants, and carry a mission of unity for Addis NOLA. You will regularly see Prince pop-up on Facebook and Instagram supporting his industry friends at Froot Orleans (a local fruit parlor), Turkey and the Wolf, Queen Trini Lisa and even Glass Half Full, a local sustainability and glass recycling project from two Tulane University graduates. Here, he recycles all the glass bottles from the restaurant. Networking is key for the Addis NOLA family as Prince mentions their membership with the LRA plays a large role in supporting that factor.
"Especially since the pandemic, one of the most important things for us is to have that connectivity with other restaurant people, and the network of professionals," Prince said. "Just to make sure that you have some support at some degree, and the LRA is a great place for that. "
Dr. Biruk Alemayehu, Dr. Jamie Lobo and Prince all wear many hats working together at Addis NOLA, truly a family affair. Prince is focused on sharing their mission and doing whatever is needed to get through each day, spreading far and wide his mother’s passion for her homeland.
“I fit myself into wherever is necessary,” said Prince. “Everyone has specific roles, but mine is a little more open. Just to make sure everyone hears our story.”
The Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) was established in 1946 to advocate on behalf of the state’s foodservice and hospitality industries.