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Two years of obstacles couldn’t stop Karima Omer from opening Sabrina’s

Posted on 27 October 2017 by Calvin

Article and photos by JAN WILLMS
Proving that it pays to persevere, Karima Omer (photo right) has recently opened Sabrina’s Cafe and Deli at 518 Snelling Ave., serving East African breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desserts. All food is prepared in the Halal manner.

But getting to this point has been a long and difficult journey.

Omer arrived in this country nearly 20 years ago as a political refugee from the Oromia region of Ethiopia. She grew up in Somalia. She began her work in St. Paul by running a grocery and daycare and established those businesses. However, a fire in the building she occupied burned down everything, and Omer was forced to start over.

“I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know what to do,” she recalled in a recent interview. She came back from a trip to Africa and looked around to see where she could best use her skills and talents.

“I had no money, and I worked part-time at a hospital,” said Omer, who is the mother of four children. “Finally I found this location.”

She started out with a coffee shop, offering customers the experience of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony. “But I would sometimes go a whole day without a customer, and not make even a dollar,” she said.

Omer was determined to follow what had always been her dream and open a restaurant and deli. Through two years of struggle with getting the proper equipment and the correct permits, Omer and her family worked tirelessly to get the restaurant up and running. And on Aug. 25, she opened her doors for a grand opening.

The small restaurant is tucked in with other African businesses along the 500 block of Snelling Ave. Inside, the walls are painted a rich, warm golden shade. The food is prepared in an open kitchen, and there is a feeling of warmth to the place. Omer chose to name her business after her oldest daughter, Sabrina.

Photo left: The Cafe & Deli is named after Omer’s oldest daughter, Sabrina.

The menu includes injera, the spongy bread on which the diner can put meat or vegetables. There is goat meat, gyros, beef sagaar, and sombosas. Chapati, a flatbread, and eggs are for breakfast. And to end the meal, the sweet and flaky baklava. Customers can dine in or order food for takeout. The restaurant is open 7am to 10pm seven days a week.

Omer said she also received the support of Little Africa, under the auspices of African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS). “If Little Africa had not helped me, I would not be in business for sure,” Omer said. The mission of AEDS is to build wealth within the African immigrant communities.

“We still don’t have a website,” Omer said. And for catering or deli orders, she uses her cellphone. “I have to answer, no matter where I am,” she laughed. She said she sometimes is at the restaurant until 1am in the morning cleaning.

She said when she was trying to get the business ready to open as a cafe and deli, some of her friends asked her if she was sure she wanted to go through with it, keep paying rent on the location even though the business was not yet ready to open.

“I said I had to see it through,” she explained. “Whatever I start, I have to finish and see the results.”

And she said the struggle has been worth it. “I don’t like to think about the obstacles we had to overcome,” she said. “I just want to go forward. Right now everybody seems to like the food, and I am happy to be able to serve them. Now the cafe is ready, thanks to God.”