COVID nudges Marathon Ethiopian restaurant over finish line after 24 years
Northwest Calgary eatery served up authentic food and community
It's kind of a family tradition.
Andrea Minor has been a customer of an Ethiopian restaurant in Calgary's Kensington district for 23 years.
Her daughter first experienced it when she was very young.
"It's a staple in this community," Minor said of the Marathon Ethiopian restaurant, in an interview with CBC News.
"I've been taking my daughter there since she was two. It's funny, my daughter is now pregnant and she craves Marathon. We had it just two weeks ago."
But that's no more.
Last Wednesday, the iconic restaurant closed its doors for good, primarily due to COVID-19.
"It's sad. It's really sad. They are wonderful people and the food is just absolutely amazing," Minor said.
Those people are owner Michael Bogale and his family.
"We called Marathon our first born," Bogale told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.
"The biggest portion of our decision depended on the impact of the pandemic. Unfortunately, it is not doable, even to stay another couple of years, or even another year just to make it to the 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, we couldn't make it there."
When he locked the doors for the last time, Bogale said it was his children who helped him understand the loss.
"This is home more than the home we actually live in," his children told him.
"We just go to our actual home to sleep because we do everything in the restaurant — studying for exams, diplomas, university."
Bogale said customers have taken to social media to express their disappointment.
"I have heard from some of my customers. We have seen birthdays, weddings, even funerals. Over the years, there have been so many feelings," he said.
Minor had her wedding reception there, she said, because the owners are so generous.
"During COVID, they were giving out free lunches to people in the neighbourhood to bring that sense of community together. That's what their family was about. They are going to be truly, truly missed," she said.
Marathon opened in 1997. It was a review on the Calgary Eyeopener a year later that really put it on the map.
"We were named a good restaurant by John Gilchrist," Bogale said, becoming more animated.
"It was never the same after that. We just made a name out of it. It became an iconic figure."
Gilchrist, now a retired restaurant critic, had only good things to say when contacted Tuesday.
"It was always my favourite Ethiopian place, not just for the food but because of Michael and Mimi," he told CBC News in an email.
Bogale said his next chapter involves some work with Calgary Transit, and his partner Mimi, a passionate chef, is now sharing her love of Ethiopian food on YouTube.
"We just want to take it slow," Bogale said regarding what's next.
"We will just go from there."
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.