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For Mimi, Serving Humanity Overrides Bottom Line

April 21, 2021
By Anthony Glaros

“I wrote a self-help book called ‘Make It Count.’ And I wrote it all here.” -A chiropractor and regular.

In the months leading up to the pandemic, Mimi Desta exuded over-the-top warmth with hugs and hand-holding and smiles to go. Alas, customers at her cozy and humble coffee shop, Sidamo, in Fulton, MD no longer get the full body treatment. Still, her very presence serves as the balm that defines and completes my day.

In the full year following the upending of the global ecosystem, Desta still exudes warmth, refreshment and rejuvenation. While the world contracted, Desta’s zest, her sparkle, only expanded.

When business was booming, when customers crowded in her cozy shop for one of her popular Ethiopian coffees and lentil sandwiches, Desta was thankful. Now that the crowd’s have thinned, Desta is still thankful—maybe even more so.

“I thank God for what he’s done in my life!” she says, quick-steeping her way from the dining room to the outdoor patio, where a handful of tables–all of them graced with vases of fresh flowers–are set up. “I’m waiting for a miracle from God. Not only for me, but for everyone.”

Like millions of other small American businesses, Desta’s has hit the skids. Still, while trying to sort out the details of her own future, she remains an oasis of faith. That has manifested itself in a myriad of ways. Answering the clarion call of her own DNA, Desta has been known to give away coffee and food to others who share her pain.

“They make me happy!” Desta exclaims of her customers. “They’re like family. They help me, they encourage me,” she added, her hand on her heart.

Through the unsettling months, Desta has kept to her schedule.

She greets the day at 4:30 every morning. After a soothing shower, she makes the short drive to work. “I do my set up. I check my e-mail. I drink my coffee. I open the doors!”    

Dialogue centering on vaccines brings Desta hope, much like the hope she summoned when in deciding to go up against the big chains like Starbucks. But, as an independent with no huge ad budget or an IPO to lean on, she has something richer that speaks to the soul: her insistence on using only the freshest ingredients, even if it means losing even more money. 

“My lentil sandwich is a big seller. It’s my own recipe. I swear, Mr. Tony (she always calls me `Mr. Tony,’ which I’ve never been comfortable with) I put lemon, olive oil, green pepper. I chop it up with the garlic. I know you Greeks love these same ingredients. We’re a lot alike, Mr. Tony. We’re the same, Mr. Tony.”   

Nearby sat a pair of millennials, both physicists, both admirers of family-owned coffee shops. “I come for breakfast every day,” reported one of the men, as his partner, sporting a T-shirt that read “Not That Kind of Doc,” looked on.  

During the early days of the virus, Desta’s daughter, Meslech, put her photographic skills to good use. The young woman, who holds an economics degree and works as a part-time photojournalist, filled the dark spaces by shadowing her mother as she moved through her unsettled days.

Of her mother, Meslech stated flatly, “She’s instilled hope in us. “We’re going to figure this out. Her resilience transcends any support the government gives us.”

On my last visit there, this scripture from Habakkuh came to mind:

“Though the fig tree does not bud…though the olive crop fails…yet I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

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