Where Dreams Are Brewed Fresh Daily

Featuring Lily Damtew of Abyssinia Market Story by Liesel Schmidt Photography by Jeff Heeney

When Lily Damtew opened the doors to Abyssinia Market in 2016, she did not just open a coffee shop. She opened the doors to her dream. As a college student, Damtew worked in a coffee shop at Union Station in DC, during which time she fell in love with coffee. As passionately as she begged her father to open a coffee shop for her, Damtew had to defer the dream until her father passed away and left her an inheritance. Married with two boys by then, she took some time to get things up and running, but when she did, Damtew knew that she created something that would make him proud and keep his memories alive. Named Abyssinia for the ancient name of Ethiopia, the market specializes in Ethiopian coffee. “If you’re a serious coffee lover, you have to try us,” Damtew insists. “We also pack our coffee, called ‘Queen of Sheba,’ because she’s one of my heroes. We also work with one of the best bakeries in the area and sell their French pastries as well as our own vegetarian Ethiopian food, and we do our breakfast sandwiches made-to-order. We also sell beer and wine from all over. What makes Abyssinia special is we do everything from love. Like I tell some of my friends, I’m not Starbucks, so I do not speak Starbucks—but I do know good coffee, and we make the best one.” As a Black, female, immigrant business owner, Damtew has overcome a great deal and she takes none of it for granted. “It’s an honor because a lot of people paid the price for me to get here, and I truly appreciate that. Every day, I get up and I give it my best. I work seven days a week and when I’m tired, I remind myself that this is my dream and I can do it,” she says. “I also know my boys are watching me, so I wanted to show them how to be strong and independent. If I can run a business and be a good mother, they can do anything.” After divorcing in 2019 and taking over the business by herself, Damtew continued to thrive even during the pandemic because of community support. “The love and respect I receive from people here every day is something I can’t even explain,” she says. “I really do believe I’m blessed to be in this community and I’m very grateful for it.” 720 Jefferson St, Alexandria, VA 22314 • www.abyssiniamarketandcoffeehouse.com