A Decade of the Caboose Café in Del Rey: Examining Ethiopian Immigration Through an Ethiopian Sociocommerscape

Rhoda Worku’s Caboose Café in the Del Rey neighborhood of Alexandria opened a little over a decade ago in 2004. The name alone is an homage to the neighborhood’s former train station where a caboose still sits.[1] Worku did not initially include Ethiopian food on her menu, but catered to the palate of her non-Ethiopian patrons from the neighborhood.[2] Afterward, she was asked to include Ethiopian staples, such as injera, by vegetarians from the local yoga studio who sought out the healthy Ethiopian dishes.[3] Alexandria is known for its diversity of ethnic businesses and the large population of Ethiopian immigrants; however, few Ethiopians live in or near the Del Ray neighborhood.

“Caboose Cafe Logo,” digital image, Caboose Cafe, 2013, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/caboose-logo-update.png.

“Caboose Cafe Logo,” digital image, Caboose Cafe, 2013, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/caboose-logo-update.png.

Ethiopian businesses certainly are not hiding their ethnic appeal. It is commonplace for these businesses to include either “Ethio” or “Ethiopian” on their English signage and the Caboose Café is no different.[4] Their window cling reads out their offerings in fun fonts and different sizes, but in clear bold type “Authentic Ethiopian.”[5] A glance at the menu, shows exactly that healthful preference those yogis were looking for while showing the diverse community the Caboose Café is located in. The breakfast menu has the traditional sandwiches, waffles, and toast. The omelets come in the variety of Greek, Farmers, California, and Smoked Salmon.[6] The option that stands out here is the Greek option because the Caboose is advertised as an Ethiopian joint. However, in her oral history, Worku discusses her integration into the diverse Alexandria community, which included several years of employment at Bread and Chocolate in Alexandria. This business was owned by co-owned by two immigrants, one Greek and the other Swiss.[7] Though she had not been cooking there, it is possible that exposure to the culture and dishes. The non-Ethiopian dishes continue in the lunch menu with items like the Greek and ceviche salads, the Taste of the Mediterranean sandwich, and an array of paninis and quiches.[8] The tides turn, however, on the dinner menu.

“Caboose Cafe Injera,” digital image, Caboose Cafe, 2013, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/gallery/caboose-gallery-1/thumbs/thumbs_dish_gkp5423rgb.jpg.

“Caboose Cafe Injera,” digital image, Caboose Cafe, 2013, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/gallery/caboose-gallery-1/thumbs/thumbs_dish_gkp5423rgb.jpg.

Though Ethiopian food is found on both the both of the Caboose’s menus, the dinner menu specifically has a section of Ethiopian dishes. Moreover, Rhoda Worku’s dinner menu is truly a taste of Ethiopian cuisine and culture. An ‘R’ adorns her staples, and the second page presents a variety of dishes that an unfamiliar tongue can only guess at pronouncing correctly. Luckily, the menu comes with an English description of each meal and, equally as interestingly, the bottom of the menu presents an English to Amharic dictionary.[9] Amharic was the language Worku spoke growing up in Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa. However, her school was run by British Presbyterian missionaries, teaching her British English.[10] Interestingly, not a single British staple such as; Beef Wellington, pork pie, or Yorkshire Pudding made it to Worku’s menu. Nevertheless, a decade of business with a loyal local customer base and rave reviews on Yelp show that her diverse menu and welcoming atmosphere works.[11]

“Caboose Cafe Breakfast Muffins,” digital image, Caboose Cafe, 2013, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/gallery/caboose-gallery-1/thumbs/thumbs_cdr-kitchen-1-2.jpg.

“Caboose Cafe Breakfast Muffins,” digital image, Caboose Cafe, 2013, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/gallery/caboose-gallery-1/thumbs/thumbs_cdr-kitchen-1-2.jpg.

The success of the Caboose Café could, to the untrained and unquestioning eye, be due to the large Ethiopian community in Alexandria. Nationally speaking, this area of the US hosts the largest Ethiopian community of all African immigrants at roughly twenty-five percent.[12] However, Worku’s restaurant caters to the diverse community first and later implemented her native dishes at the request of non-Ethiopian health enthusiasts. Worku’s desire to encourage the integration of Ethiopian culture into the community does not stop at the doors of the Caboose Café. Worku has discussed the importance of hospitality to the Ethiopian community and there is a brief mention of her partaking in a program with Girl Scouts as a representative of the Ethiopian community, though she does not feel it is a title she holds permanently.[13] This business is just as diverse as its community and, undoubtedly the food and hospitality are the reason for its success in spite of the significant increase in the cost of living in the area which could easily lead to an exodus of minorities.

“Caboose Cafe Lunch Sandwich,” digital image, Caboose Cafe, 2013, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/gallery/caboose-gallery-1/thumbs/thumbs_cdr-kitchen-25.jpg.

“Caboose Cafe Lunch Sandwich,” digital image, Caboose Cafe, 2013, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/gallery/caboose-gallery-1/thumbs/thumbs_cdr-kitchen-25.jpg.

 

Endnotes

  1. Interview with Rhoda Worku, by Krystyn Moon, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, Future, May 20, 2015, 7-9.
  2. Interview with Rhoda Worku, by Krystyn Moon, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, Future, May 20, 2015, 13.
  3. Interview with Rhoda Worku, by Krystyn Moon, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, Future, May 20, 2015, 13.
  4. Elizabeth Chacko, “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area,” Journal of Cultural Geography20, no. 2 (July 2003): 33.
  5. Paulette Paglia, “Caboose Cafe,” digital image, Google Maps Images, September 2016, accessed October 28, 2016, https://www.google.com.ezproxy.umw.edu/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x89b7b12030d432cb%3A0x25bf840a08c917ac!2m13!2m2!1i80!2i80!3m1!2i20!16m7!1b1!2m2!1m1!1e1!2m2!1m1!1e3!3m1!7e115!4s%2Fmaps%2Fplace%2Fcaboose%2Bcafe%2Balexandria%2F%4038.827512%2C-77.058905%2C3a%2C75y%2C92.31h%2C90t%2Fdata%3D*213m4*211e1*213m2*211s7LQef-C0DdXzeiuDPwSF_g*212e0*214m2*213m1*211s0x0%3A0x25bf840a08c917ac!5scaboose%20cafe%20alexandria%20-%20Google%20Search&imagekey=!1e3!2s-UGQsXu7EM2o%2FV9A-ax6K3NI%2FAAAAAAAAGlA%2FRwegXWanduQ3hh6I9QVuUzJiTyNqvlDEwCLIB&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiY5arwvfzPAhUJFj4KHbwCAeUQpx8IeTAM.
  6. Rhoda Worku, “Caboose Cafe: Breakfast Menu, Lunch Menu,” 1, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/CC17-BreakfastLunch_full-2015_05-5-1.pdf.
  7. Interview with Rhoda Worku, by Krystyn Moon, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, Future, May 20, 2015, 7-8.
  8. Rhoda Worku, “Caboose Cafe: Breakfast Menu, Lunch Menu,” 2, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/CC17-BreakfastLunch_full-2015_05-5-1.pdf.
  9. Rhoda Worku, “Caboose Cafe: Dinner Menu,” 2, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Caboose-Dinner-Menu.finalprint.pdf.
  10. Rhoda Worku, “Caboose Cafe: Dinner Menu,” 2, accessed October 28, 2016, http://caboose-cafe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Caboose-Dinner-Menu.finalprint.pdf.
  11. Interview with Rhoda Worku, by Krystyn Moon, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, Future, May 20, 2015, 13.; “Caboose Cafe: Bakeries, Coffee & Tea, Ethiopian,” Yelp, accessed October 28, 2016, https://www.yelp.com/biz/caboose-cafe-alexandria-4.
  12. Elizabeth Chacko, “Identity and Assimilation Among Young Ethiopian Immigrants in Metropolitan Washington,” Geographical Review93, no. 4 (October 2003): 491.
  13. Interview with Rhoda Worku, by Krystyn Moon, Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, Future, May 20, 2015, 13-14.

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