After Battle With Church, Shaw Restaurant Thrives

Washington Post Express
January 14, 2008
by Marc Zawel

Photo by Marc Zawel for Express

ON A RECENT EVENING
, a pair of diners sat in the window seat at Queen of Sheba on 9th Street NW in Shaw. Between them, they shared traditional Ethiopian vegetarian plates, like Atkilt, a stew made with carrots, potatoes, cabbage, red pepper and onions. They glanced directly across the street, at the Shiloh Baptist Church, raised their Heineken beers and took a swig.

It was a somewhat ordinary scene — but, after a nearly two-year battle for a liquor license, it’s one that owner Embzam Misgina now takes comfort in. “It was very difficult,” he said, of the unexpected fight he faced with the church when opening his restaurant in early 2006. “We wouldn’t have opened here if we had known.”

It was unexpected because both a corner liquor store and a nearby Giant supermarket sell alcohol. Yet, when Misgina applied for a license, the church contested it because Queen of Sheba was located less than 400 feet from Seaton Elementary School. Twenty-two months, a legislative change and protest hearing later, the restaurant was allowed to start serving alcohol a month ago.

Photo by Marc Zawel for ExpressSince then, “everyday, business is picking up,” Misgina said. His establishment has begun hosting live music on the weekends, and with nearby restaurant and lounge, Vegetate, Misgina hopes to help revitalize Shaw’s 9th Street commercial corridor. Located a couple of blocks from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and offering more parking than the congested U Street corridor, the area, Misgina said, presents a real opportunity for restaurateurs.

“We would welcome others to open here,” he said. “The hard times that we faced won’t happen again.”

Behind the bar, co-owner Nigisti Misgina now pours Remy Martin and Johnny Walker Black Label, in addition to the signature, non-alcoholic Queen of Sheba Smoothie — a delicious concoction of flaxseed, banana, papaya, mango, soy milk and Dutch honey. “It’s how we survived through the hard times without the license,” she said.

Tensions have also since cooled between the restaurant and their church neighbor just steps away. “We have built a friendship with them,” Misgina said. “Some of the worshipers have come here to eat.”

But, have any ordered drinks with their meals? “No,” Misgina said sheepishly, “not yet.”

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