The next edition of the Petworth News Restaurant Spotlight.
Sinafkish Asefa had spent the last 25 years in food service, but when she finally launched a restaurant of her own three years ago, she realized this was a whole different game.
“When you own, you work 24/7,” she chuckles, leaning back in her seat as the dinner shift at Mignot Restaurant & Café, located at 4815 Georgia Ave NW, comes to a close. “When you work for somebody, you work your shift and then you clock out and that’s it. When you own, 24 hours your brain is working, asking 'What can I do better?'”
It seems that constant work is paying off for Sinafkish (Sina for short), who owns this welcoming Ethiopian restaurant with her daughter, Rebecca. Mignot has a 4.5 star rating on Yelp and has built up a reputation for the best Ethiopian food in the neighborhood. That’s no small feat given the proliferation of Ethiopian eateries in the District.
I stopped by with a friend on a recent Wednesday to sample a few Ethiopian standards: a vegetarian platter, consisting of a colorful array of lentils, peas, cabbage and greens served with spongy Injera bread, and lamb Tibs (imagine a cross between a stew and a stir fry) served with saucy onions and tomato.
The veggies were fresh and satisfying, but the Tibs were the real standout: often I find this dish dry and tasteless, but these hunks of meat were flavorful and juicy, causing my friend and I to keep eating long after we were full.
Sina came from Ethiopia 30 years ago, and has never returned. She says she hasn’t felt the urge to, given the difficult situation in the country and the robust Ethiopian community in the District. She lives in Silver Spring, but when she saw a storefront for lease on this part of Georgia Avenue, she jumped at the opportunity.
“This area is getting better and better,” Sina says. “It was a good time to grab the place.”
And so three years ago, Sina and Rebecca embarked on a mother-daughter adventure. They co-own he restaurant; Sina cooks, drawing on her experience growing up in Ethiopia cooking for 7 brothers, and Rebecca is her sous chef. Sina comes from a food service background, but Rebecca did not have prior restaurant experience. Yet, Sina says, her daughter jumped right in and has helped tremendously in getting Mignot off the ground.
“She’s in it, and she makes me so happy,” Sina says smiling. “Now, when I’m not at the restaurant, she’s me.”
Not everything has been smooth sailing: Mignot experimented unsuccessfully with breakfast (Sina says that in the two years she offered breakfast she only acquired two or three regular customers), and has struggled to incorporate live music (the restaurant has a small stage and sporadically hosts music on weekend nights, but the owners are still figuring out whether to hire paid musicians or rely on volunteers and open mic nights).
Still, Sina says the restaurant’s lunch and dinner following is steady and growing: “I’ve been told it takes three to four years to get a profit, but we’re doing OK.”
So what should guests order when they come to Mignot? Sina recommends the veggie platter as well as Doro Wat, a festive dish made of slow cooked chicken and egg that is traditionally eaten during holidays in Ethiopia. For the health conscious, Mignot also serves gluten free Injera imported from Ethiopia (actually teff flower, from which Injera is made, is naturally gluten free, but many Ethiopian restaurants in the United States add a bit of yeast and all-purpose flower for texture).
Mignot’s kitchen stays open until 11 pm, and the restaurant itself stays open until 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 3 a.m. weekend nights. It has a small bar in the front, which Sina says is popular with regulars from the neighborhood.
“I want everybody to come visit us,” Sina says. “It’s friendly. The food is delicious. Come see me!”
Mignot Restaurant & Cafe
4815 Georgia Ave NW
Sunday - Thursday: 11 am - 2 am
Friday - Saturday: 11 am - 3 am
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