EDGEWATER — Ethiopian Diamond owner Almaz Yigizaw fled from her hometown as a refugee.
But more than 30 years later, she says she's never lost touch with the place that made her life and business what it is.
"Everything comes from home," she said, even the eatery's spices, which her sister harvests from Gondar, her hometown, and exports to Chicago for exclusive use at Ethiopian Diamond's two locations. "I'm introducing my culture to Americans."
All the restaurant's recipes were her late grandmother's, who was respected in Ethiopia for her cooking ability, Yigizaw said.
"People think she's the best cook in that area," she said.
The cuisine at Ethiopian Diamond has been so good, in fact, she plans to expand its original location into a storefront next door on North Broadway — and launch a line of authentic, retail spices, so customers would be able take the taste of Ethiopia home with them.
Last month, a public notice popped up in the window of the next-door storefront, detailing the restaurant's plan to modify its business license to serve food in the new space. A few tables and chairs were set up inside.
Soon, Yigizaw said she plans to use the space to sit people when the restaurant's tables fill up on the weekends. She also plans to host parties and other events there.
Yigizaw fled the violence and political unrest in Ethiopia when she was 16 years old, ended up in Sudan as a refugee, and moved to Chicago with her brother in 1982.
After taking a business class with the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, the Senn High School alum opened Ethiopian Diamond in 1996 at 6120 North Broadway.
"We started this big from the beginning," she said, sitting near a framed painting of a prominent medieval castle found in her hometown.
A few years later, business took off after a slew of media coverage, including by WTTW's "Check Please!"
"All the papers and media came came here to write about it," she said.
Then, in 2010, she opened a second location at 7537 N. Clark St. in Rogers Park.
Yigizaw said she owes her success to the opportunities found in America.
"If I was in Ethiopia, I might not have had a lot of choice," she said. "If you do the right thing, if you're willing to take advantage of it, you can accomplish your dreams here."
Yigizaw said her grandmother raised her when she was a young girl, after her mother died, and taught her the tastes of their culture.
The reason she started cooking was "to be just like her," she said.
Her grandmother, who came to America in 1992, died at 94, a year after Ethiopian Diamond opened in Edgewater.
Yigizaw's son, two brothers and three cousins live in America now, and she visits her other family in Ethiopia from time to time.
But for now, she said, Ethiopian Diamond is "my home."