Small Business Spotlight: Chef Winnie’s Kitchen

Clarkston resident Woinshet Legesse Emory opened Chef Winnie's Kitchen in Clarkston about six months ago. She was inspired to learn how to cook after being the director of food and beverage at big-name hotels. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Clarkston, GA — In a small corner of Clarkston, one resident spends most of her days cooking and filling her restaurant with love. About six months ago, Woinshet Legesse Emory opened Chef Winnie’s Kitchen to serve Ethiopian food and fill the stomachs, and hearts, of the community in the process.

Emory fled to the United States with her daughter in 1991, after marrying an Ethiopian politician who was jailed when a new government came to power, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.

She married a second time, had two more children and moved to Georgia.

For many years, she supervised food service programs at well-known hotels, like Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, IHG and Four Seasons. During that time, she managed the chefs at the hotels, but she didn’t like not knowing the kitchen.

“It really bothered me not knowing something but managing them, so when I got laid off from [being] director of food and beverage at IHG Hotel, I decided to go back to school,” Emory said. 

She went to get a bachelor’s degree from Le Cordon Bleu and a master’s degree from Johnson and Wales University, where she studied business administration and specialized in hospitality.

She said hospitality has been her life, as her parents ran a hotel and restaurant in Ethiopia when she was growing up.

“I don’t know anything but to serve people,” Emory said. “That’s my nature.”

Emory was laid off in 2016 and struggled to find a job for three years. She started to drive Uber just to make ends meet at the time.

“While I was struggling I lost my home, I lost my cars, I lost everything that I had worked [for] for 33 years in this country, so I had to start everything from scratch,” Emory said. 

Luckily, she knew of the building on East Ponce de Leon in Clarkston and a friend co-signed for the kitchen staff and paid her first and last month’s rent in order to open Chef Winnie’s Kitchen earlier this year.

“It’s emotional for me because you just have to be patient, but I couldn’t be patient because I didn’t have money,” Emory said. 

Emory does a lot of the work herself and has a small staff. She often gets asked about hiring more people to help.

“I need to see my guests myself. As long as I carry this, my name, I will be the waitress. That’s it. I’ll take care of my guests because no one will like I do,” Emory said. Although, she is proud that she can hire people and provide opportunities for others.

She added that sometimes people also comment on the size of her restaurant building.

“People may think this is too little, but I want to make it big inside once you come in here, so you’re pleased, you’re happy, you’re eating tasty food. I see the joy in people’s face,” Emory said. 

Most people visit Chef Winnie’s for the Ethiopian food, she said, but Emory offers a variety of dishes, like quesadillas, in which she infuses Ethiopian flavors into her recipes.

“I infuse the spices. It’s not like you just only put Ethiopian or just put only American spices, I just infuse them,” Emory said.”[The quesadilla] touches Hispanic, but it’s my own creation, so it’s infusion. I add an Ethiopian touch in there and Ethiopian spices, but it is quesadilla. But the hot pepper, the jalapeños, that makes it different from the regular.”

The tibs, along with the quesadilla, is one of Emory’s most popular dishes. The Ethiopian dish features meat and vegetables served on injera flatbread, and it’s meant to be eaten with one’s hands.

“It’s beef and it’s onion. It’s my favorite spice, garlic, and fresh basil…and my secret sauce added to it is what it makes it really [good] and the Ethiopian-style butter that I make is what influences everything,” Emory said. 

Emory will also explain how to eat dishes, like tibs, and help customers learn more about Ethiopian culture. Part of that is sharing dishes rather than ordering two separate plates of the same meal.

“Unless it’s completely different items you are ordering, for injera, I want to put people together here. I want to create love with my food,” Emory said. 

Her menu also features items like tacos, fish curry, burgers, wraps and sandwiches.

“I never thought that it will get to this point, but I wanted to create something that is mine, that I own,” Emory said. “I think it comes out beautiful and everybody is appreciating it.”

Chef Winnie’s Kitchen is located at 4238 E. Ponce de Leon Ave in Clarkston. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 4 to 10 p.m., according to Emory.

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