Restaurants sometimes suffer quietly, but the story of St. Paul’s Flamingo restaurant and its fight for life merits telling.
Flamingo was born out of an unusual vision. Its owners, Frewoini Haile (above, left) and Shegitu Kebede (above, right), arrived in Minnesota in the 1980s and ’90s from the warring countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Recovering from traumatic pasts (Kebede was orphaned at age five and separated from her brothers in Ethiopia; Haile’s family was exiled from Eritrea), the two found each other and began thinking about the many women like themselves who were struggling to find a place in the Twin Cities.
In 2006, Kebede received the Virginia McKnight Binger Award in Human Service for a cleaning business she started. Going Home, Inc., had the primary goal of giving refugee women the tools they need to thrive in a new and unfamiliar community. In addition to job training and cultural support, Kebede’s business fed a quarter of its profits back into the community. In the words of close friend Mona Carloni, Kebede was “teaching [women] from the inside out.” Since January of this year, Kebede and Haile have used this same model to create Flamingo, where they serve a mixture of Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Somali dishes, such as lamb-based stews and curries, lentils, collard greens, and injera (a soft, porous bread). Haile says both she and Kebede “know the pain that other women go through.” For this reason, she and Kebede not only want Flamingo to be a place to enjoy East African culture, but also a place “where women can accomplish their dreams.”
But a passion for food and good intentions could not stop the electrical surge in June that left the women with a heap of useless appliances and a refrigerator of spoiled food. In an effort to regroup, they closed their doors for a few days, but the financial blow has kept them struggling to pay utilities and rent. Because the surge was out of everyone’s control, insurance cannot help the women recover their losses, and they have also been turned down for a loan. What they need more than anything are patrons. Kebede and Haile love to cook, but their food is really the catalyst to connect women in need with the community that surrounds them. A meal at Flamingo means hot, honest food, but also the promise of moving forward.
490 N Syndicate St
St. Paul, MN 55104-2500
HOURS: Mon-Sun, 10am-9pm
Take-out, catering, and delivery are all available.