By Uche J.
Upon arrival in the United States in 1995, Menbere Aklilu began living her American dream as a hostess at Salute Evita Ristorante in Richmond. Little did she suspect that seven years later she would become the owner of Salute Evita.
The restaurant is nestled at the Marina Bay in Richmond, with a view of San Francisco in the background.
Menbere, an Ethiopian immigrant, is a single mother and former actress in Ethiopia. When she made the decision to leave Ethiopia in search of better life, her journey took her to Italy and then to the United States.
While in the Vatican City, she and her son ran away from an abusive husband and lived at Mother Teresa, a homeless shelter in Rome. The experience gained from living in the shelter helped to build her character as a businesswoman.
A true believer in great customer service, Menbere took the lessons to heart when she started working for $7 per hour as a hostess at Salute in Richmond. “I believe in making my customers feel at home,” she said. So when she worked as a hostess she made sure her customers were given the best service.
Her belief in customer service and a fortuitous meeting with a customer were instrumental in providing her with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Salute Ristorante was up for sale by previous owners, and a customer, an Italian immigrant, told her that due to her work ethic and great customer service, he was willing to help her finance the purchase of the restaurant.
So, what seemed impossible became a reality for Menbere. When Salute Ristorante became available for sale, she worked her way up a position as manager. This allowed her to learn the business, the intricacies of running a restaurant.
In 2002, she completed the purchase of the restaurant. Despite the economic downturn, “We have not laid off any employees,” she said.
According to Menbere, the City of Richmond and the entire community have been good partners that have helped the restaurant attain success. “You have to know how to handle success as much as failures – I give back to the community that has helped with my success,” she said.
For many years, Salute Ristorante has hosted a yearly thanksgiving dinner for homeless people and low-income families. Menbere continues to support Mother Teresa Shelter and recently traveled to Rome with her son to volunteer some time at the shelter.