During remote learning and stay-at-home lockdowns in 2020, Heaven Bekele, a single mom of three, found herself constantly traveling from her home in Rosemount to Minneapolis to buy Ethiopian ingredients and groceries.
During those back and forth commutes, Bekele, who was born in Ethiopia, decided to open her own store that would serve other Ethiopian families in Dakota County faced with the same dilemma.
After months of planning — gaining inventory, making sure she had a customer base, marketing on social media — Bekele opened Intoto Ethiopian Market & Takeout on Aug. 1. She intended to open in April, but government approvals took longer than expected.
The roughly 2,100-square-foot store at 15185 Carrousel Way in Rosemount opened after obtaining a retail food handlers license. Bekele sells authentic Ethiopian spices, coffee, clothing, hair products, glassware and cookware, and injera, an Ethiopian flatbread. Many of the clothing items were shipped to herfrom family members still living in Ethiopia.
The store also includes a sitting and eating area, where Bekele plans to serve customers coffee and hot Ethiopian food. That plan is on hold until Bekele installs the proper plumbing and three-compartment sink, and receives a food service license from the state, she said.
In the interim, Bekele is using a commercial kitchen in Inver Grove Heights to make meals she sells in takeout containers at her store.
Before starting Intoto, Bekele worked as a food quality technician and operated a trucking business. She was 10 when her family moved from Ethiopia to Canada, and 19 when they moved to Minnesota. She has bootstrapped Intoto, spending thousands of her personal savings to bring it to fruition.
Food service at the store will increase revenue and help absorb expenses, like the hefty sewage fee that comes with operating a kitchen, she said.
“I know it will be successful once I get past that,” Bekele said.
Bekele’s two teenage children help operate the store. With the added revenue, she can hire an employee to work the store, which is currently “paying for itself,” she said.
The store sells authentic Ethiopian spices, coffee, clothing, hair products, glassware and cookware, and injera, an Ethiopian flatbread.