On the bustling corner of Lawrence Avenue and Broadway in the Uptown neighborhood, Demera Restaurant has been introducing Chicagoans to Ethiopian cuisine since 2007.
“I wouldn’t say it’s spicy, but it’s seasoned well. It’s very healthy and it has a lot of cardamom, cayenne pepper, cinnamon,” said chef and owner Tigist Reda. “More and more are growing to be familiar, but still a lot of people are new to the fact that we eat with our hands or the spices or the injera. In our restaurant, demera messob is the most popular … it gives you a taste of the menu with three veggie and three meat.”
Before opening the restaurant, Reda says she had some professional hospitality experience, but most of her cooking expertise was at home.
“I’m number seven of 11 children and … 20 something people lived in one house. So we always cooked and there was always some sort of party going on,” she said. “I used to entertain a lot of people at home and my former husband at the time said, ‘Why don’t we open a restaurant?’ This place was available and six months later we were open.”
Reda says the pandemic tested Demera, as it did all Chicago restaurants – but she says it also inspired her to do more humanitarian work with her platform.
“I think something good came out of it where mental health became more important, the way we do things became more mindful,” she said. “Yes, it was a horrific experience … a lot of people lost their lives, but there are things that came out of it as well.”
In addition to the Uptown location, Demera recently opened a stall at the Time Out Market and is planning a Bronzeville location for 2025.
Since conflict began in the Tigray region of Ethiopia in 2020, Reda has participated in a number of fundraising events for various causes – something she says she plans to continue doing in the future.
On Sunday, June 11, Reda is one of five women chefs participating in the fundraising pop-up A Night of Hope at Guild Row, 3130 N. Rockwell St., benefiting Tigray children living in Sudanese refugee camps.
“I think we are fortunate enough to have everything we need. And when the war happened, what I know is to cook and to feed people and I wanted to use that vessel to support others that are in need…. a way of, not surviving the war, but coping with the war, was to do those kind of events,” Reda said. “It’s just as a way of expressing support for people and to do what I love and help other people have a better life.”