Nearly everything in the Queen of Sheeba take-out restaurant in the West Palm Beach’s historic Northwest neighborhood says Ethiopia.
From the Ethiopian posters on the walls at 716 North Sapodilla Ave., to the name itself, a common name for Ethiopian restaurants in the United States.
The only thing missing is Ethiopian food. It’s not that locals are complaining, with owner Lojo Washington’s southern soul food dishes a hot item in the Northwest.
But Washington, an Ethiopian native who moved to the United States in 1987, has bigger aspirations. And thanks to a $66,000 grant from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, Washington is expanding Queen of Sheeba to a sit-down restaurant, the only full-service restaurant in that neighborhood.
And her popular soul food will be replaced by Ethiopian food. Washington believes it will be the only current Ethiopian restaurant in South Florida.
“Queen of Sheeba is a common name for Ethiopian restaurants,” Washington said. “People come for vacation and they call me and ask about my menu. When I tell them it’s southern, they get disappointed. So I said ‘maybe it’s a good idea to open up an Ethiopian restaurant.’”
Ethiopian restaurants are common in New York and Washington, D.C. Orlando and Tampa also have them, but Washington believes that an Ethiopian restaurant that shut down in Miami a couple of years ago was the only one in South Florida.
“Ethiopian food is a little spicy,” she said. “We use a lot of herbs and spices, some of which will come straight from Ethiopia. We have different kinds of vegetables, fish, and all kinds of meat, chicken and lamb.”
Washington said that city officials have been interested in her restaurant since then-Mayor Lois Frankel was on hand for the Queen of Sheeba’s grand opening in 2006.
Current Mayor Jeri Muoio and several city commissioners have eaten there, and Washington approached the city several years ago about a potential grant.
“I go there and get their fried fish and all the other extras,” Commissioner Sylvia Moffett said. “They have delicious cornbread. It’s just a fantastic place.”
The renovations are expected to cost about $83,000, meaning the CRA, which provides incentives to businesses in blighted areas, will pick up most of the tab.
Washington believes it will give a spark to the Northwest neighborhood.
“It will introduce African flavor to the beautiful city of West Palm Beach,” Washington said. “Secondly, it will encourage people to come and invest in this area. They will discover the Northwest.”
The Northwest hasn’t had a full-service restaurant in decades. Commissioner Ike Robinson said he remembers a restaurant in the early 1970s run by the late Herman McCray, founder of the popular McCray’s Backyard BBQ in Riviera Beach.
But 40 years later, Washington feels residents are ready for another restaurant.
“When people come in, a lot of them ask me if they can sit down and eat,” she said. “They like the atmosphere but there’s only one table with two chairs. I am extremely excited.”