At Bremer, we have the pleasure of working with a wide range of business and agriculture clients, some large and some small. Bolé Ethiopian Cuisine, a cozy family friendly restaurant with excellent Ethiopian food, is one of our small business customers with a big impact on the community.
Owners Rekik Abaineh and Solomon Hailie, a married couple, were born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After managing other people’s restaurants for several years, they decided to start their own, recognizing the unique value of an ethnic restaurant to the Minnesota community. “We have something that people like – people really enjoy my wife’s cooking,” said Hailie.
Acknowledging customers’ desire for healthy foods that fit their busy schedules, the couple challenged themselves to make healthy Ethiopian food more easily accessible.
And they coupled that concept with a vision for excellence – in the food and in the service, all designed around the community. In fact, they made “Community” one of their organizational values, and it drives everything they do. Their success with the restaurant led to discussions of expansion throughout 2019. In late December, they acquired an SBA loan through Bremer, but just a few months later, the COVID-19 global pandemic changed everything.
“We had no idea how long the restrictions would last, and we were shifting gears every day in terms of how we served our food, which items were on our menu, and how much hand sanitizer we had to order,” Hailie recalled.
From a numbers perspective, the pandemic took a toll on financial results. The agility of Hailie and Abaineh – and their intense focus on keeping the community safe — were instrumental in keeping the business afloat. They leaned into technology advancements to make their takeout business successful, developing online and phone ordering to continue to serve customers. When Bolé reopened, the number of orders was so large, they had to stop taking online orders to effectively manage community demand.
The pandemic wasn’t the only challenge for Bolé Ethiopian Cuisine. Following George Floyd’s murder, there were protests and unrest in the St. Paul-Midway area where the restaurant was located. “We could see the risk was increasing so we closed the restaurant early one Thursday – and never came back. Because, unfortunately, that night a fire was started behind the restaurant, and by morning, our restaurant was a complete loss,” Hailie shared.
This was a critical moment for the Bolé team. Fighting to survive during the pandemic and now a total loss of everything they’d worked for. But Hailie and Abaineh were determined to continue their life’s work. They understood the importance of bringing the restaurant back for the community. “We’re doing so much more than cooking food. We are a part of people’s important life moments and celebrations,” Hailie explained. The community agreed, rallying to raise over $150,000 on GoFundMe to help Bolé rebuild.
“Bremer supported us before the fire, during the fire and after the fire. They reached out to us frequently, and they were by our side at every turn,” Hailie shared. “When you lose your entire livelihood on Thursday and meet up on Friday to make plans, you must have a good partner on your side making that possible.”
Banker Ron Richard credits Hailie and Abaineh for their resilience in the face of adversity. He said, “The way they reacted, as immigrants and community-builders, is key to their success story. They’ve exceeded their first-year financial goal after reopening and continue to surface innovative ideas for future growth with a well thought out business plan.”
Today, Bolé Ethiopian Cuisine operates in an entirely new space near Como Park that opened in 2021 and is larger and full of opportunity. “We previously worked with other banks, but I didn’t understand until I started working with Bremer how a bank could be a true partner. Ron comes to the restaurant and enjoys the food. This makes us feel like we are working with someone who understands what we do and cares. Bremer saw the humans behind the Bolé dream from the very beginning,” Hailie said.
Despite a challenging couple of years, Bolé Ethiopian Cuisine’s focus on the community is holding strong. The team wants Bolé to be the spot where customers hit pause on their busy lives and share a meal with a friend or loved one. Where they can forget everything else that’s happening in the world, for a moment, and connect. Bolé is about more than delicious food. It’s a human bonding experience.