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Local Couple to Bring Ethiopian-Themed Coffee Shop to Hudson Heights

By Farran Powell | August 22, 2012 7:19am

HUDSON HEIGHTS — A local couple is taking its fair-trade and organic Ethiopian coffee small business from the virtual realm to a brick-and-mortar store in Hudson Heights.

Sarina Prabasi and Elias Gurma, who met in Ethiopia seven years ago, decided to open Buunni Coffee in the neighborhood after spotting a "For Rent" sign at 213 Pinehurst Ave. in February.

They quickly pounced on the opportunity.

"The whole idea of our business and cafe is our personal connection to Ethiopia and the neighborhood," said Prabasi, 39, who plans to open the shop at the end of August.

Prabasi, who is originally from Nepal, met Gurmu, 39, in Ethiopia while working for Water Aid, an international aid relief organization. The couple moved to the city last summer and started their online business selling Ethiopian fair-trade coffee in February.

Cafe Buunni will serve different Ethiopian blends of coffee when it opens at 213 Pinehurst Ave. at the end of August 2012.
Cafe Buunni will serve different Ethiopian blends of coffee when it opens at 213 Pinehurst Ave. at the end of August 2012.
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Buunni Coffee

Prabasi said "bunni" literally means "brown" and sounds similar to the Arabic word "bunn" for coffee.

"We added an extra 'u' in Buunni, so it wouldn't be so close to the word bunny," Prabasi said.

Cafe Buunni is third coffee shop to open up in the Washington Heights and Inwood area in the last three months. Unlike other areas in Manhattan, Washington Heights plays host to only two Starbucks, at West 168th and West 181st streets. 

Local residents said they are eagerly awaiting the chance to grab a cup of morning Joe on their way to work and savor the new flavors.

"We love love the coffee, cannot wait till the new shop opens," online customer Kamala Mantha Thaler wrote on the company's Facebook page.

The couple decided to convert an old shoe repair shop in the neighborhood into a storefront for the location of their first cafe. They plan to furnish the Ethiopian-influenced coffee shop with a long community table and a standing counter space.

And in keeping with their socially responsible theme, Prabasi and Gurma plan to use biodegradable cups.

"In the store we will have more varieties than online, which is only Ethiopian," Prabasi added. "We'll keep it fair-trade and organic with other African varieties and from other the parts of the world."

The Washington Heights couple traveled back to Ethiopia last February after the fall harvest to select their choices for coffee blends, which they purchase through a farmers cooperative, from the East African country.

"With the coffees in Ethiopia, each one has a distinctive taste," Prabasi said.

The coffee shop will also serve different blends of tea, smoothies as well as light savory and sweet snacks made by local bakers like scones and mini desserts.  

"We've been trying to be involved in local events and the how we've become known in the neighborhood," Prabasi said.
The couple also plans to sell Buunni Coffee blends at the Inwood Flea market starting on Aug. 26.