ABAY ETHIOPIAN CUISINE (Facebook Photo)
by Rebecca Nuttall
Courier Staff Writer
For nearly ten years, Abay Ethiopian Cuisine has served as “a source of cultural and culinary nourishment for the city of Pittsburgh.” But on June 7, Abay Owner James Wallace announced the restaurant would be closing its doors on June 30.
“Although my mom cried inconsolably because she thought I was throwing away my law degree, in June of 2003, I bought a building in East Liberty to open what people would tell me was Pittsburgh’s ‘weirdest’ restaurant. At the time, I didn’t think 10 years of my life would be devoted to this concept. But a decade has indeed gone by,” Wallace said on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “After a lot of deliberation, we’ve decided to wind things down.”
Known throughout the city as Pittsburgh’s first Ethiopian restaurant, Abay featured authentic Ethiopian cuisine and décor while introducing guests to the Ethiopian tradition of communal eating. The restaurant was inspired by Wallace’s own trip to the country.
Located on the border between East Liberty and Shadyside, Abay served as a cornerstone in East Liberty’s revitalization and was once surrounded by a number of minority-owned businesses.
“I don’t know how true it is, but we’ve been told numerous times that we pioneered the run of restaurants that have opened in the neighborhood,” Wallace said. “Given the fact that the night life which was here when we initially started consisted of Kelly’s and the Shadow Lounge, there is an argument to be made that we really did do something to change both the neighborhood and Pittsburgh.”
Abay was opened without funding from the Urban Redevelopment Authority at a time before East Liberty was attractive to investors. Instead Wallace purchased the restaurant’s building with his personal savings.