Photo of Master Chef Ras Nolawi- Credit: Table Spice Bar & Grill
Ethiopian cuisine in Puerto Rico is a full experience of paradise. Walking into Table Spice Bar and Grill from the busy streets of San Juan, where salsa music is heard, and wind is received from palm trees, was absolutely majestic.
If you know me, then you know that everywhere I go, I explore Ethiopian cuisine. I do this mainly because I love it, but it’s also my way of supporting a black/brown owned business. Those that I discussed my journey to Puerto Rico with know the concerns I had about not being able to eat an Ethiopian veggie platter. But spirit called, and I came anyway.
Spirit knew I’d be okay because in January, I learned about an Ethiopian restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I almost jumped out of my skin. I immediately went to their page and sent them a message. Not even an hour later, I received a response from Queen Char, and was invited out to sample their vegan offerings.
I walked into the restaurant, beautifully decorated, with a coffee bar and wine cellar, and a gorgeous covered bar outside with T.V’s. The whole place has a vibe, but I chose to sit inside. There, I chatted with both owners, absorbing their passion through words and then, the delicious meal.
My veggie platter was magnificent! A perfect blend of rooted vegetables and leafy plants. I love a colorful plate and my platter was so colorful, it made me smile from ear to ear. Then the explosion of flavor; the flavors were fully present in every bite. Anyone close heard the sounds of my experience.The veggie sambusa; the pastry was so SO good; that alone was marvelous but the filling gave an extra spike of flavor that I appreciated.
I was having a magical experience, when Chef Ras Nolawi came out with coffee. Coffee that I needed no creamer for; black coffee with just a little bit of sugar. Ya’ll, it was so smooth, so delicious, the perfect ending to a beautiful meal.
Q&A with the Owners of Table Spice Bar & Grill: Chef Ras and Char
Photo of Owners, Char and Master Chef Ras- Credit: Table Spice Bar & Grill
Where are you all from and where were you all raised?
“We moved to Puerto Rico from California to make this happen. Master Chef Ras Nolawi Temesgan is from Ethiopia, and I (Char Temesgan) was born in San Jose, CA.”
What did you all do for work, or other businesses owned and worked prior to Table Spice Bar & Grill?
“I (Char) was Senior Tech in Forensics for all Law Enforcement for San Francisco and Master Chef Ras had his own restaurant in Eureka for almost 8 years, while also working the Farmers Market for 6 years.”
Give me a little insight into the 10 year old you; what were your hopes and dreams?
“Turns out, we both had the same dream when we first met, which was to own a restaurant in the Islands. Since then we have locked hips and walked through many fields of thorns to get here.”
When did cooking start for you all?
“In 2017 our spice line was born: Habesha Spice, but before then we were a catering service and did special events which were mostly musical concerts for top musicians.”
Photo of the veggie platter that the author feasted on- Credit: Author
When did you know you wanted to feed others?
“I think Master Chef and I had this desire since we were kids, for we both were in the kitchen way before 10 years old cooking fancy foods.”
What’s your favorite thing to create and feed others?
“We love to cook all of the presentations because we put love into everything we do and want others to have it all.”
When was the Table Spice concept born and what was the reason(s)?
“The concept was born within months after coming together about 6 years ago. We just fought the good fight for so long to get here. Living in the Bay Area is really costly so we knew we had to move away in order to build our dream. We moved on to Denver Colorado for two years before we took off to the Islands. Our 1st island was St. Croix for one year but the opportunity didn’t present itself until we came here to Puerto Rico. The thing is that this is not our 1st rodeo. We lost $50,000 on another building that had too many unknowns.”
What was the official birthdate of Table Spice?
“Table Spice was born on 01/28/2023.”
Photo of Table Spice Bar & Grill outside bar area- Credit: Author
What inspired the menu and offerings?
“The more we got involved with what it was that we were doing, we became more creative in our presentations. Everything comes from the heart with no recipes. We are the Chefs that make our own and everything we touch is super delicious.’’
What kinds of plant proteins do you all use?
“On the full menu we will have a veggie burger, we also have Mitten Shiro which comes from garbanzo beans. We don’t use soy too much.”
Are any of your products locally sourced?
“We are adapting to the Farm to Table concept and are looking to contract with the local farmers.”
What is the mission and core values of Table Spice?
“We would like to franchise so we can share our spices and creations with the world. We also love to give back in the communities that we share.For example, we did the Annual Toys for Tots this past year to help the children.”
What are 3 things people should know about Table Spice?
“ We are the 1st to bring Ethiopian platters to the islands. We are a Fusion Restaurant. We have our own Spices.
How do you all feel about cannabis for wellness?
“We have infused many wonderful desserts before upon request for events. We believe that it is a natural healing for those who are sick.”
Any hemp offerings on your menu/as an ingredient (hemp seeds/milk/protein)?
Have you learned anything about cannabis recently that surprised you?
Photo of author at Punta Borinquen Beach- Credit: Mariex Adventures
Huge thank you to my journey to, and stay in Puerto Rico Sponsors:
Sky High PEO, a full service employment agency for cannabis businesses, helping business owners with all of their Human Resources needs.
Greencore Specialty Insurance: an insurance agency protecting cannabis businesses against general liability, storms, theft, and more.
The High Class: a holistic health service offering CBD infused skincare products.