Of cooking and community
Fetien Gebre-Michael built an Ethiopian-food empire in the Mile High City — and in the process grew a community that is sustaining her business through the pandemic and the fight for racial justice.
The rich fragrances and flavors of misir, gomen, injera and niter kibbeh always connected Fetien Gebre-Michael to her Ethiopian roots.
Today, those dishes are also connecting and supporting Colorado communities through the pandemic and protests for racial justice.
Gebre-Michael is the chef/businesswoman behind Konjo Catering, the Ethiopian Food Truck and Konjo Ethiopian Food. When the pandemic decimated the hospitality industry and racial justice protests rocked streets, the communities her cooking always supported came together to sustain her and her businesses, which she runs with business partner Yoseph Assefa.
“I literally cannot thank our community enough. That’s really the mainreason we are still afloat,” the 2013 Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate said.
Gebre-Michael’s parents and oldest brother immigrated from Ethiopia to Lakewood when she was 3. As the oldest daughter among 12 siblings, she spent much of her childhood at the stove with her mother, and what began as a chore turned into a gift.
She started her first company, Konjo Promotions, in 2007 while pursuing a business marketing degree at MSU Denver. The Sunday reggae nights it hosted were renowned for the Ethiopian bites Gebre-Michael cooked up, and it wasn’t long before she was catering for nonprofits and community fundraisers from her home kitchen.
After graduating, Gebre-Michael took on business partner Assefa, incorporating the catering company in 2014 and putting the Ethiopian Food Truck on the street in 2015. In November 2019, the empire expanded to the Edgewater Public Market, where the fast-casual Konjo Ethiopian Food was an immediate hit.
Building a business in Colorado as a Black woman wasn’t easy, Gebre-Michael said, recalling racism and prejudice she experienced at food-truck rallies, banks and networking events.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a massive victory for Black people, she added, so long as everybody understands that the fundamental issues of racial justice and equity predate social media.
“They’re issues we already knew about in the Black community that are just coming to the forefront for everyone else,” she said.