Mehretu Tekle dreamed of opening Hope Eritrean and Ethiopian Restaurant as a place of unity for the Harrisonburg community, where people could enjoy music and authentic food from the eastern African nations. All that was about to become a reality, but the COVID-19 pandemic put at least part of Tekle’s dream on hold.

Opening a business during normal circumstances is a sweat-inducing labor of love that’s fraught with risk. Doing so during a pandemic complicates everything. But for Tekle, giving up has never been an option.

Tekle was born in Eritrea, but was forced to flee his home country in 2004 following political unrest and a crackdown by the country’s authoritarian president. Tekle lived in an Ethiopian refugee camp from 2004 until 2010, when he got the chance to come to America through his sister-in-law, who already was living in Harrisonburg.

Upon arriving in Harrisonburg, Tekle grew homesick, missing the band he had played in with his friends and the culture he had left. So in January 2020, Tekle planned to open his own business, a restaurant which would bring a taste of Eritrean culture to Harrisonburg.

As the pandemic began, though, Mehretu realized that it might not be the best time to open a restaurant. He pivoted his opening from January to later in the spring. In the meantime, Mehretu kept himself busy by fixing the floors of the building, painting and prepping to open.

On July 1, Tekle officially opened Hope, at 1751 S. Main Street, although his plans to have the dining area showcase Eritrean culture — through music, for instance — must wait. He has only opened for takeout orders.

Hope is open from Friday-Monday every week, from noon to 9 p.m.

Since opening, Tekle has received a considerable amount of help from the Harrisonburg community in spreading the word about his new restaurant, but he wishes for much more.

“People who start a new business like me, it’s really difficult. Even as a small business, I can’t expect that much income, but at least I was hoping to pay my debt. But the pandemic, it’s a big issue,” he said in an on camera interview with The Citizen.

Most of all, Tekle said he looks to his faith. “We have to pray…it’s up to God. I expect that things will be much better… and it will be much better. It’s up to God.”

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series of video stories featuring the experiences of Harrisonburg residents who are opening a business during the pandemic.

Video and reporting by Chase Downey, contributor
Originally published August 10, 2020
Reprinted by permission from the The Harrisonburg Citizen

After relocating and amid a pandemic, there is ‘Hope’