By ALEXANDER S. COREY | LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
A former tuxedo rental store.
A Mexican restaurant.
A hair salon.
These are the past lives of buildings at the corner of West Flamingo Road and South Decatur Boulevard that have been revamped within the last year by Ethiopian business owners.
In the last year, an Ethiopian-owned restaurant, coffee shop, and driving school have taken root in the Flamingo Business Centre, joining a hub of Ethiopian businesses across the street, less than a mile from the Palms.
Seven months ago, a former tuxedo rental store was transformed into Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant, 4850 W. Flamingo Road, named after the 3.2-million-year-old skeleton that was the oldest known human ancestor upon its discovery in Ethiopia in 1974.
Behind that restaurant, an Ethiopian couple opened a party supplies store last month.
Two doors down is a driving school initially started to serve people in the Ethiopian community who didn’t speak English. Now it serves a myriad of customers in various languages, according to its owner Woldu Tereda, 40, who also has a stake in the restaurant.
The restaurant was founded by Tereda and three friends who met while working as Las Vegas cab drivers. Each has been in the U.S. for 10 years or less.
Inside, paintings drawn on goat skin adorn the walls and traditional wooden chairs engraved with illustrations line a wall.
Tereda and his partners, Fitsumberham “Fits” Mehari, 40, Girma Abebe, 44, and Abrham Tesfaye, 43, initially tried to get a loan for their restaurant but couldn’t get the amount they needed. Instead, the group pooled their money and enlisted friends and family to help with remodeling the interior.
The men said their clientele is currently about 70 percent Ethiopian, but they expect that customer base to diversify as more people find them.
Getting the necessary spices for the restaurant has not always been easy. The group has learned to order in bulk from a distributor who ships ingredients from Ethiopia in order to avoid setbacks from unexpected shortages.
Tereda said he hopes to see the area, already known for Ethiopian stores, emerge as an even bigger destination for Ethiopians and the greater Las Vegas community.
A few businesses down, is Kaldi’s Coffee, 4850 W. Flamingo Road, Unit 26, named for an Ethiopian legend of a shepherd who found his goats acting strangely after munching on peculiar, caffeinated berries.
The shop’s owner, Mulu “Molly” Chokele, 41 — who also works full-time as a pharmacist — said she saved up to open the shop six months ago. Chokele, who moved to Las Vegas about 10 years ago, said the coffee shop has enjoyed increased business from Lucy Restaurant customers who come to her cafe in between meals.
Chokele, who is familiar with a larger Ethiopian community in California’s Bay Area where she previously lived, said the Las Vegas Ethiopian community is “growing faster than I expected.”
Across the street on Flamingo Boulevard, are an Ethiopian-owned hookah lounge, auto shop, and another recently opened restaurant, among other businesses.
Haileleul Asare Kerga, 51, worked as a mortgage broker and cab driver before opening Cafe Luhena with his wife, Miheref Teju Dibaba, inside a building that was once a Mexican restaurant and a pizza shop.
Kerga said they chose this location partly because it is ”densely populated by Ethiopians and is very close to the Strip.” The majority of Kerga’s customers are Ethiopian, he said, but they have occasionally gotten tourists who wandered off the Strip.
Cities like Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, and Seattle are known for having distinct Ethiopian communities and business hubs. Some Las Vegas Valley residents expect Las Vegas to eventually have a Little Ethiopia of its own.