New York City, NY

A Flavor Mosaic: The Ethiopian Makina Cafe Is A Different Kind Of Food Truck

Ann Brown

Hot dogs, gyros, halal meals, tacos, and even soul food can be found on NYC food trucks. But Ethiopian?

Well, Eden Egziabher thought a food truck selling Ethiopian food was a good idea -- and she was right.

Egziabher, who was born in Ethiopia to parents of Eritrean descent, opened the Makina Cafe food truck in August 2017. She was raised with a mix of Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Italian cultures. (A part of Ethiopia was occupied by Italy in the 1930s.) “Makina” actually translates to “truck” in all three of these countries’ languages.

Egziabher is the first Eritrean-American female entrepreneur in New York City with a food truck serving “Habesha” food. “Habesha” refers to people of Ethiopian and Eritrean heritage.

Makina Cafe dishes out breakfast and lunch to hungry New Yorkers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. "The recipes are a collection of family recipes put together and adjusted to cater to the NYC market," Egziabher says.

All customers get Injera (a soudough flatbread), then a pick of two vegetables such as Miser (a spicy whole red lentil stew) or Tikel Gomen (cabbage with carrots and potato in a turmeric ginger suave), and a protein. Among the selections of proteins are chicken TIBS bowl (a diced chicken made with an Ethiopian spice called TIBS), Siga Wot (a slow cooked beef stew), or Doro Wot (a slow cooked chicken). And course, there's a selection of sauces-- Awaze (a chili pepper barbecue sauce), Makina sauce (a jalapeno-based sauce). The Makina Cafe also serves Ethiopian coffee and Dona spiced sodas as well as Ethiopian snacks.

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Eden EgziabherPhoto from Instagram

The truck's schedule is posted on the Makina Cafe Instagram page and its website.

Egziabher was working in corporate America and was looking for a new career direction when the concept of Makina was born in 2016. "I have an MBA in marketing; I was a marketing manager for a hospitality firm based in Brooklyn," she says.

With more New Yorkers discovering and enjoying Ethiopian food, Egziabher thought a mobile way to bring the cuisine to the boroughs was a great idea.

"I wanted a fast-casual concept, and I thought a food truck would be a great way to introduce that," Egziabher says.

Egziabher said she felt New Yorkers would be very open to an Ethiopian food truck. “New Yorkers are foodies in general, so I knew once they tried they would come back, but I had to do some research to find the right demographic and go to that area until we built a reputation,” she explains.

Egziabher tested out her concept with a targeted audience. “For example, when we started, we parked East midtown because the Eritrean/Ethiopian consulates were located there, and we thought that would be good exposure.”

She got a range of reactions. “In the beginning, we saw many reactions, some were extremely surprised that what we did was even possible (we had to answer a lot of questions), some were skeptical and discouraging.”

But the discouragement didn't last long. Makina Cafe attracted loyal customers who continued to come back. Then, the pandemic hit.

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Photo via Instagram

"Our food truck business was directly impacted. We worked in Manhattan, Monday through Friday, and to this day we haven’t returned to our regular schedule pre-pandemic," Egziabher shares. "We pivoted towards other business models such as catering and e-commerce but in regards to our day-to-day operation, things haven’t been the same since the pandemic."

Now, as things are slowly returning to the new normal, Egziabher is working on recovering and other projects. "We have a big project we are working on. Hopefully to expand and grow in this new venture/project," she says.

She hopes to bring expand Makina other parts of the U.S. and use Makina Cafe as a charitable platform that gives back to the community.

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Ann Brown has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. She studied journalism at New York University and has her B.A. Born in New York City, Ann lived in Praia, Cabo Verde, for nearly a decade. She created “An American In Cape Verde,” a Facebook community. Among the topics she writes about are: business, travel, entertainment, and lifestyles.

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