Ethiopians have a really strong sense of community. We need to be around each other.
One of the traditional gestures of Ethiopian cuisine is the gursha,where you prepare a bite by hand and feed it to a person you’re diningwith. It’s a sign of love and respect. In non-pandemic times, Gihon is filledwith locals and their gurshas. Like all restaurants, they’ve felt the pandemic toll. It’s been touch and go. But Makonnen says they will carry on,whether here or elsewhere. Many newAmericans are already at risk for obvious reasons (lack of a social and familial safety net; wholly new sets of laws, customs, and social mores; increased nativism in the US) so the pandemic hit them especially hard. According to a congressional study from the Joint Economic Committee (JEC),“foreign-bornworkers also are concentrated in industries that experienced steeper increases in unemployment as a result of the coronavirus recession, such as accommodation and food services. Approximately one-in-five foreign-bornworkers lost their jobs between February and April 2020.” It’s not just entry-level jobs. In 2017, Nation’s Restaurant News reported that 29 percent of all restaurant and hotel owners are foreign born,more than double the 14-percent figure for all businesses. According to the JEC, in the beginning of the pandemic, foreign-born business
ownership fell by 36 percent. Overall, business ownership fell 22 percent. Gustavo Tonella nearly became part of those statistics. “My first jobwas at the drive-thru window at Jack in the Box,” says Tonella,who now owns Doggos Gus. “My Englishwas worse, but the restaurant culture made everything easy.You make tips every day; many
ABOVE: A spread of Ethiopian specialities from Gihon, including injera, tibs, and doro wot. OPPOSITE: Gustavo Tonella, owner of Doggos Gus in Imperial Beach,
times you get free food. After your shift you have a beer with the cooks.My coworkers ended up being my friends, roommates, and groomsmen.” Tonella immigrated fromMexicali in his 20s,working his way through restaurants as a busser, cook, expeditor, server, every rank in the chain—all while getting a degree in marketing fromCal State San Marcos.“In Mexicali,we have hot dogs on every corner just like we have tacos here,”he says.“Mymomwould take me to the hot dog guy around the corner from our house every week. He was there for 16 years.When he diedwe were all devastated.” In 2010, Tonella launched his own catering company with Sonoran-style hot dogs—bacon-wrapped dogs in brioche buns, toppedwith micro-feasts (the“Carnitas,” for
which serves Sonoran-style hot dogs and micheladas.
APR I L 2021
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