The chain is a punching bag for those who distrust big business, but it has helped revolutionize the US coffee scene and paved the way for smaller businesses to flourish
By Nina Roberts
Three years ago, Elias Gurmu and his wife, Sarina Prabasi, spotted a shuttered shoe repair shop in their new Manhattan neighborhood. They had moved only a year earlier from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. And they thought the tiny vacant space was the right spot for an Ethiopian coffee shop.
Their gentrifying pocket of Washington Heights, dubbed “Hudson Heights” by realtors, had no coffeehouses despite New York City’s more than 280 Starbucks and a slew of small boutique coffee chains like Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Blue Bottle Coffee. The closest specialty coffee shop, a Starbucks, was a seven-minute walk south, a world away by New York City standards.
Gurmu, a serial entrepreneur, and Prabasi, both 42 years old, took a gamble. They invested their savings, bolstered by personal credit cards, to open the street-level Café Buunni.
It’s the only Ethiopian-owned (technically co-owned, as Prabasi is originally from Nepal) and -run coffee shop in New York City. But it’s one of a dozen coffee houses that have been popping up across the country, including in Chicago; Washington, DC; Minnesota’s Twin Cities; and San Francisco.
The trend is a sign of the growing number of Ethiopian immigrants in the US. It’s also a testament to the country’s gourmet coffee revolution. And that, Prabasi says, is thanks – at least partly – to Starbucks.
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