Winnipeg, Canada – Robel Arefaine grew up a soccer fan in Ethiopia but after 11 years in Winnipeg, he has come to love the national game of his adopted homeland.
Especially when it puts money in his pockets.
The co-owner of Kokeb Restaurant on Ellice Avenue said business has picked up since the return of the NHL to Winnipeg last fall. Some of the favourite items on his menu, including injera, a pancake-like bread filled with stews, salads and vegetables such as split peas and corn, as well as his lamb, beef and chicken dishes, don’t have the mass-consumption appeal of Boston Pizza or Moxie’s, but hockey fans with refined palettes have gladly come by to nosh before heading off to the MTS Centre to cheer on the Winnipeg Jets.
And fans without tickets can sit in its 65-person lounge to watch the game on a big-screen TV and sip on Bedele beer, an Ethiopian brew he special-orders through the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.
“The Jets are good for business,” Arefaine said.
Bedele is popular with his African customers who want a taste of home, but it’s the Canadians who put the biggest dent in the 26 boxes he last ordered.
“When I give (Canadians) the menu, they ask, ‘Do you have beer from your country?’ They want to taste it. Within one month, the Bedele was gone,” he said.
Mesfin Kahsay, owner of Modern Restaurant, just a stone’s throw away from the MTS Centre on Portage Avenue, has become a hockey fan, too. His one-year-old eatery is full of hungry fans before, during and after games.
“The Jets help big-time,” he said.
Both restaurateurs say Winnipeg’s multiculturalism is a big reason why they can make it in the restaurant business. Kahsay said running a restaurant is a way to capitalize on his heritage and one whiff of his chicken stew will tell you his eatery is nothing like the Tim Hortons or Subway outlets across the street.
“We are not a franchise. We try to survive by making different kinds of food. Everything is fresh. Everything we do is from scratch,” he said. “All of my life, I worked in a restaurant. This is the first time that I’ve owned one.”