After posting on Buffalo’s Bounty while including Hamilton as part of the mega-region (Torbuffchesterton), my wife and I decided to go somewhere we had never been, in search of something that we had never had. We figured that we would head up to Hamilton to try a well-known Ethiopian restaurant called Wass. Wass is named after its owner Wassie Mulugeta, a congenial guy who was on-hand to greet us and more that happy to feed us well after the lunch rush was over. When we introduced ourselves and proclaimed that we were from Buffalo, his eyes lit up and he responded that he had just been to Buffalo for the Taste of Buffalo. When we inquired how he had enjoyed the festival, he answered, “I would like to open a restaurant there.”
On the drive to Hamilton, in the back of my mind, I had though to myself, “If this Ethiopian food is as good as we hear it is, we’re going to have to tout Buffalo as a prospective city for another location.” It turned out that Wass was one step ahead of us. “I have so many customers from Buffalo,” he explained. “Just last week I had three tables in one day. That’s why I went to Taste of Buffalo. I wanted to learn about the city. I want to open on Elmwood Avenue… I saw an open restaurant (turned out to be Mode) that I liked, but it was a bit more expensive than I expected.”
Unfortunately, the more we thought about available restaurants on the street, the more we realized that Wass (he goes by Wass) was going to have a hard time finding one at a reasonable lease rate. While we discussed all of the possibilities (such as Mode and Off the Wall… we hear that The Wine Thief will open as an American restaurant called Epic), we sat down to order our food. When we told Wass that we were relatively new to Ethiopian food, he snapped up our menus and walked away saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” And take care of us he did. He brought out the most amazing tray of vegetarian delights that we had ever laid eyes on.
The tray was filled with Tikil Gomen, Gomen Wat, Yekik Alicha, Yemiser Wat, Keyser and Dinitch, Misir Alichah – all served over an enormous, light and airy pancake. We found ourselves eating spicy lentils that looked and tasted like meat, yellow split peas and kale, beets and potatoes, all prepared by hand, and as is customary, eaten by hand with no forks, chopsticks, etc. We scooped up the offerings with the Injera (crêpe-like pancake) and found ourselves in blissful heaven, eating flavorful food made with all-natural ingredients. Wass told us that due to the nature of the cooking, all of the samplings before us were designed to retain the food’s original nutritional elements – so often foods are overcooked, sacrificing important enzymes and nutrients. We washed down the food with an Ethiopian beer called Harar, which was light and smooth and complimented the flavors nicely.
I would have to say that Ethiopian food lives up to the stellar reputation that it has garnered over the years. That’s why we need Wass to open up a location in Buffalo. Last night we toured Wass around the city (he was the special guest that I mentioned), and to say that he was enthusiastic would be an understatement. Wass loved the vibe of Allentown. From live music at Allen Street Hardware to seeing a pig roasting out in front of The French Quarter Cafe, there was an incredible energy on the street that captured his imagination. “This is where I want to be,” Wass told us. “I want to stay open late with live music… I want to be in an area with a neighborhood of families and young people.” It didn’t take long before there was a buzz in Allentown that there was an Ethiopian restaurateur scoping out the street. “You need to open here,” people would say. “We need Ethiopian food in Buffalo!”
It’s not going to be easy to find a turnkey operation for Wass. He knows that, but he’s determined to open in Buffalo… even if it’s near Allentown. We’ll be keeping an eye out for spaces that might be a good fit. In the meantime, Wass is planning another visit a week from now, while he also meets with lawyers to obtain a working visa. “People in Buffalo are so friendly,” Wass told me. I will try my hardest to open a restaurant here.”