An interview with Lene Tsegaye the co-owner of Kefa Café in Silver Spring, Md
By: Nicole Howard
I looked at the drink options, written on a black coffee pot-shaped chalkboard that hung from the café ceiling. Lene Tsegaye greeted me with a smile she wore a black velvet blazer, jeans, and knee-high black boots. I noticed a flyer, on the cash register, titled, Kefa Café Hub at the New Library. Lene and her sister Abebe won a bid to build a café in the Silver Spring Library opening this summer. Lene said, “We need to raise $50,000 by the end of the month.”
Lene believes when the goal is met it will show that God meant for it to happen. This small moment was an example of her faith. The café wasn’t busy at the time so there wasn’t any rush to make my drink so we continued talking.
Lene grew up in Ethiopia, Africa and came to the United States in 1983. Her brother came up with the idea to open a coffee shop. Lene and her sister Abeba opened Kefa Café in 1999 and they are still in business. Some people may view success as the profit a business makes, but Lene said that is not how she defines success. Her definition of success is,
“[To] have a place where by the time they leave they are happy; you must have it in you.”
Lene describes it as “love” and “happiness”. In other words, if they walk in with those things deep inside then she can help to bring it out before they leave.
We sat at the unique tables of her shop, they are covered in large burlap coffee bags, under a large piece of glass. Under the glass, you can find a short strip of paper with the words, Coffee should be something special printed on it. Other tables had illustrations drawn by the shops younger fans.
After finishing my latte, I ordered tea. I got to select the tea bag I wanted and it was steeped in a cast iron teapot accompanied with a beautiful teacup and saucer that you may find in your Grandmother’s china cabinet. It was a reminder that the café is meant to feel like home.
“What do you like most about owning a coffee shop?” I asked
“The community. To provide a space for people to feel at home,” she replied, awaiting my next question.
Focusing on showing love and caring about the community separates Kefa Café from the larger coffee shops in the area. Their motto is: we cannot spell community without unity. Lene explained her knowledge of the culture surrounding coffee from that she witnessed growing up in Ethiopia.
“[There is a] deep culture, and history where people sit down and talk, sit down and make decisions,” said Lene.
This environment is created by choosing not to provide Wi-Fi. “[There is] no internet access, but you get a better connection with people.” said Lene
When it isn’t too busy you can find one of the sisters talking with patrons. I asked Lene what she likes about owning a business in the Silver Spring, MD area.
She responded, “Diversity and people believe in spending money in the community.”
Our conversation was briefly interrupted because she had to speak to someone about a business matter. There is nothing like witnessing women taking care of business, making decisions, doing what’s best for their establishment.
Lene supports local artists and business owners. Looking around the shop you will find brochures, business cards, fliers. Additional seating is available in the room titled, Space 7:10. It is run by an artist/activist who selects artists to showcase their work.
“[It] makes our place look good and gives a chance for people to show their work,” Lene said when asked about the exhibit space.
Another way Lene likes to show support is her involvement with Free Minds Book Club. She hosts open mics. You can find the literary journal, They Call Me 299-359: Writings by the Incarcerated Youth of Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop on display.
She doesn’t view people as patrons but as owners.
“Everyone who walks in owns the place,” said Lene.
Lene hopes to employee youth when the café opens in the new library. She wants to particularly help those who have dealt with some difficult times to have an opportunity to be employed and have positive interactions within their community.
Take a short tour of the Kefa Café with photos I took during my visit.
See the owners in action by watching this interview on Voice of America,
This interview took place on Friday, March 6, 2015.