By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer, Report for America Corps Member
Executive chef Elias Taddesse, owner of Mélange, recently opened his new comfort food restaurant, Doro Soul Food, in Washington, D.C. The Michelin-star chef created the concept to infuse Ethiopian flavors into typical American soul food dishes.
During its grand opening on Nov. 17, Doro Soul Food gave away two-piece fried chicken plates with black cumin qibe-drenched cornbread and spiced mac-and-cheese to the first 50 guests.
“It’s been crazy and very well received. I really did not expect it to be as crazy as it was,” said Taddesse. “I’m very fortunate, and I’m very excited about how people perceive it. We were actually selling out within an hour and a half.”
Like many chefs, Taddesse worked his way up in the kitchen. He started in the restaurant industry as a busboy when he was 18 in a Minneapolis restaurant.
During his time off, he invited the chefs to come to his house to cook together and host parties, and Taddesse became obsessed with the culinary arts.
Coming to D.C. was serendipitous for Taddesse, who trained in France. After winning a Michelin star while working in New York kitchens, he decided it was time to forge his own path in the culinary world.
Before opening his first District restaurant, Mélange, Taddesse traveled to Ethiopia, his birthplace, to check out the restaurant scene. There, he honed his culinary skills in Ethiopian cuisine.
His business partner was from D.C., and the pair agreed that it would be best to start with a fast-casual burger restaurant, although Taddesse’s long-term goal is to open a fine dining establishment.
Although Mélange started as a pop-up at Wet Dog Tavern in 2017, today it’s considered one of the best burger joints in the District. Taddesse was even named Chef of the Year in the 2021 Eater Awards for D.C., and this year, he was named as a finalist for Rising Culinary Star in the Rammys, which honors D.C. restaurants and chefs.
With the opening of Doro Soul Food, Taddesse was able to tap into the flavors, spice and staples of his home country, like gomen besiga, black cumin and berbere, to enliven the comfort dishes. The restaurant is even named after Ethiopia’s national dish, the doro wat.
“Even though we are pushing more of a fast casual approach, what I want people to know is when they try our food, they are getting the best ingredients marketed,” said Taddesse. “I approach it
[the same way
] I do fine dining.”
Doro Soul Food’s menu features various chicken plates, vegan tender plates and a number of sides, including collard greens, creamy mashed potatoes and turmeric coleslaw.
Customers can choose the spice level for their chicken, which ranges from mild to very hot, and Taddessee makes all of the sauces from scratch.
He also plans to roll out a catering menu in the near future, and because the restaurant is situated just blocks away from Howard University’s campus, he intends to launch student specials in the coming weeks.
After the bustling opening, Doro Soul Food reduced its hours of operation to dinner service, so Taddesse can take time to regroup and hire more staff.
“When you get into the business, even before you start, your hopes and dreams are to own a restaurant,” said Taddesse. “You do the hours, the school, the training, that constant stress level, and ultimately, the goal is to be able to have your own restaurant and be recognized for all the work that you do because it’s a lot of sacrifice.”