Little Ethiopia community continues to thrive on Danforth Avenue in east-end Toronto

While many might associated Danforth Avenue with Greektown, there are other cultural districts on the vital east-end Toronto corridor. One area that continues to thrive is Little Ethiopia. Nick Westoll has more.

While many people in Toronto think of Danforth Avenue as home to the city’s Greek community, it has also grown into an important destination for the Ethiopian community.

Little Ethiopia is primarily concentrated on Danforth Avenue between Greenwood and Coxwell Avenues. Many of the Ethiopian businesses in the area are restaurants and grocery stores.

Banchi Kinde was the first person to set up an establishment showcasing the community’s delicious cuisine. She opened the Rendez-Vous Ethiopian Restaurant near Monarch Park Avenue in 2001.

“There [were] no Ethiopian restaurants, convenience stores, hair salons and stuff like that, but the fact that one day we came in and we were like a team here,” she recalled during a tour of her restaurant for CityNews’ Your Community newscast.

“We wanted more businesses to come into this neighbourhood, so we encouraged people to come and open.”

Kinde said lower rents and a desire by nearby neighbourhood residents to try something new were big draws for Ethiopian entrepreneurs. Fast-forward to 2024 and Kinde estimated there were a couple of dozen businesses.

Dining at an Ethiopian restaurant, Kinde said, is an experience. There are no utensils. Instead, diners use their fingers and pieces of fermented flat bread called injera to grab food dishes. She noted there’s a tradition where diners may occasionally feed each other.

“There is a saying in our culture: people who eat together wouldn’t ever betray each other,” Kinde said before describing the feeling the food’s flavour evokes.

“You feel the spice inside the mouth. You have a lot of party going on.”

Kinde said Ethiopian cuisine is good for anyone who wants to eat a more balanced diet, pointing to the healthier ingredients that make up injera, a wide array of vegetable and bean side dishes, and various proteins. She added beef kitfo and Tibs meat dishes are staples along with her lamb stew.

Another signature item on the menu is a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Many consider Ethiopia to be the birthplace of coffee. The Mofer Coffee cafe at the corner of Danforth and Coxwell Avenues is a business that specializes in Ethiopian coffee.

As part of the ceremony at Rendez-Vous, Kinde will roast coffee beans in a pan on the stove before grinding the beans. Using a clay point, the coffee steeps and a lot of the bitterness is removed. The coffee is served with a side of popcorn and frankincense is burned to help foster an environment of calmness.

“So all the diaspora when they come, the food might be a little bit expensive for them to go out and eat but once they come here they will know this is kind of a sense of literally Ethiopia. They will go and buy their groceries from the Ethiopian grocery,” Kinde said.

When it comes to her customer base, she said a strong sense of loyalty has sustained her business for 23 years. Kinde also said her business has become a hub for Ethiopian and Eritrean residents.

“The people when they come, they won’t be lost,” she said.

Also located in Little Ethiopia is WoodGreen Immigrant Services. The organization provides access to English lessons along with employment, housing and social support to various communities in 60 different languages.

Steve Vanderherberg, the agency’s vice-president of community services, said cultural districts like Little Ethiopia in Toronto should be cherished.

“It is quite an important kind of safe landing space for many newcomers in which they can find people that speak their own language and adjust,” he explained. “They all help and support newcomers — the Ethiopian community specifically here — to really adjust and find a new life within Canada.”

Vanderherberg noted there is also an economic benefit too.

“Not only is it the professional skills they bring into the region, but it is the cultural vibrancy that they might bring into a neighbourhood. Whether that’s with new restaurants opening, with different cultural music or events that they host, so that offers a lot to the city of Toronto.”

Meanwhile, for anyone who hasn’t tried Ethiopian cuisine, Kinde encouraged curious diners to visit her east-end Toronto business or other restaurants in Little Ethiopia to experience something new.

“Once you experience it, you are going to be loving it for sure,” she said.

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