When Beza Bisrat began traveling across the nation for work, the amount of representation for Ethiopian cuisine was few and far between. This was a stark contrast to her home in Washington D.C., the city with the biggest Ethiopian population in the nation.

“My career took me to lots of little towns all over the US. And in these places, I was usually the only person of color, [and] one of the only women working in my respective factories. I was really lonely in those times,” Bisrat said. “I connected with people and I made friends. But I felt very separated from my culture and separated from my family and my friends. And so the way that I found comfort was from cooking.”

The makings of Ethiopian Delights

Cooking was an exciting way to bring a taste of home no matter where Bisrat resided, but she often ran into a common problem.

While getting her MBA at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, it was hard to find Ethiopian ingredients and spices, often having to drive an hour or more across the state. This was the norm for many Ethiopians outside of the larger cities, a norm Bisrat wanted to change. So she launched her own business, Ethiopian Delights.

Photos courtesy of Beza Bisrat

“The origin of the company was moving to Charlottesville,” Bisrat said. “Because that diaspora is so strong in Virginia, DC, and Maryland, they were going through similar things as well, having to drive to Richmond or to DC to get what they wanted. I realized that this was really an unmet problem in a lot of places and it made me want to do something.”

Outside of D.C. and Richmond, many towns lacked access to Ethiopian ingredients and cuisine in the DMV area. Bisrat wanted to fill that void with Ethiopian Delights by packaging a classic Ethiopian dish in an accessible way — instant pre-packaged goods. It started with a simple dish, Misir Wot, a rich collection of traditional spice blends like berbere, lentils, onion, garlic, and oil combined to create a delicious stew.

“[Misir Wot] is incredibly simple, but it’s just so impactful what you can do with those ingredients and really make it pop. That's what I thought would be a good place to start,” Bisrat said. “And then from there, I cooked like a fiend. I got better. I watched videos online and I knew how to make it taste good, but I wanted to make it even better.”

Photos courtesy of Beza Bisrat

She found a way to dehydrate and package the dish so that it only needed water to be enjoyed. She began sharing her creations with fellow classmates and then moved on to pop-up fairs all over Charlottesville.

Local support and community-driven partnerships are also what make Ethiopian Delights special. Since taking off, Bisrat’s business has collaborated with UVA organizations like the Ethiopian and Eritrean Student Association and the Black Economic Empowerment Society.

Currently, Ethiopian Delights is partnering with farmers markets both in Charlottesville and in D.C. over the summer. If you happen to live in and around the DMV area, be sure to check out their community events which are featured on their LinkedIn. Misir Wot is also available for pre-order on their website once you join the waitlist and get notified of the next restock. She hopes to expand regionally to reach more communities and make Ethiopian culture more commonplace as more people learn about it.

“For a country that is the 11th largest in the world by population, there's still not a lot of visibility into our culture. It’s the only country in Africa to never be colonized. There's a rich history, a lot of ancient grains, ancient ingredients that you don't really see anywhere else,” she said. “And I'm excited for my company to possibly move the needle and provide more visibility to my community, to my culture.”

One of the most fulfilling insights Bisrat hopes to impart with her business is the power of community. Inherently, Ethiopian cuisine is meant to be shared on a large platter, Bisrat describes. Pieces of injera are torn apart and dipped into multiple dishes, sampling, and tasting together which is a large part of Ethiopian Delights' goal as a whole.

“It creates this community experience, being able to share food with friends and family all at once talking and gathering. That's really kind of at the crux of Ethiopian culture is community, hospitality, and connectedness,” she said. “So, it's something I'm continuing to think about as I build out the brand for Ethiopian delights and continue to think through our product lineups. How can we design products that people can enjoy on their own, but also could foster that sense of community with their friends and with their family using our products.”