Demera, a fixture for Ethiopian cuisine since 2007 in Uptown, is popping up starting Thursday on the South Side in taking over the Promontory in Hyde Park. Owner Tigist Reda has a special mission for her new endeavor: She’s donating all profits from the pop-up to help the victims of Ethopia’s Tigray War, a conflict that’s left thousands dead and 350,000 living in famine.
The conflict ignited in November. Reda grew up in Tigray, the Northern Ethiopian region that’s served as the center for the civil war. She says she went 45 days without hearing from her parents, not knowing if they were in danger. Eventually, in December, phone service was restored and she was able to connect with them as the county had imposed a communications blackout. They were safe. Reda is one of 11 children and most of her family lives in Ethiopia.
“The hardest thing is to be so far away and not knowing what to do,” says Reda.
The war has targeted women as accounts of sexual violence are not unique. Reda formed a charity, Hope 4 Tigray Women, to focus on victims of gender-based violence and she hopes to raise at least $50,000 from the pop-up. Reda will donate proceeds to Health Professionals Network for Tigray, a volunteer group that provides humanitarian aid and health care services to Ethiopia.
Setting up a location separate from her Uptown restaurant allows the Reda to dedicate the pop-up to relief efforts, to donate all profits. Reda is shaken by conditions in Ethiopia where it’s not safe for women to attend school or work. Water is scarce, and Reda doesn’t believe Americans have enough awareness due to the Ethiopian communications blackout that also blocks social media.
“I just see a lot of people being harmed,” Reda says. “I wanted to do my part.”
The pop-up starts Thursday and should last through July with an option of running longer. Beyond that effort, Reda is also holding a fundraising dinner on Monday, August 23 at the Lakewood event space on the Near West Side by the United Center. She met Lakewood co-owner Jodi Fyfe through the ongoing Let’s Talk Womxn series that brings together prominent members of Chicago’s food world. Fyfe is the co-owner of Paramount Events, a catering company that’s moving (along with its restaurant, Eden) to Avondale.
Since last year, Reda had been drawn to Hyde Park and wanted to open a South Side location. The Promontory has been in transition, trying to spotlight different restaurants. The music venue and event space owned by Chicago hospitality company 16” on Center was experimenting on plugging in new culinary talent into the restaurant space. Most recently, they brought on Jonathan Zaragoza who created a Mexican menu for his concept, El Oso.
The pop-up’s special three-course meal is available via Tock. An overlooked aspect of Reda’s pop-up are the drinks. 16” on Center’s Bruce Finkelman says his team of bartenders are creating new cocktails using African ingredients used at Demera.
News about Demera’s new location surfaced in early May when one of Reda’s friends took the Facebook to post a job ad. Reda wasn’t ready to announce the deal as she continued to work out the details of her not-for-profit operation. Reda is hoping for a more long-term presence on the South Side. The pop-up could just be the start.
Demera’s Dine 4 Tigray pop-up at the Promontory, 5311 S Lake Park Ave W., starts Thursday, July 1 and goes through mid-August with 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. seatings Thursday through Sunday; Sunday brunch at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Reservations via Tock.
An Evening of Hope for Tigray Women Hosted by Demera Chicago, Monday, August 23 at the Lakewood, 1758 W. Lake Street; tickets are $125 per person. Tickets at Eventbrite.