When did Lula’s first open?
The restaurant opened in October 2021, but we’d been doing catering at the Gloucester Green market and other places for over three years before that. Lots of our customers at the market always said it would be lovely to have a place where they could sit down to enjoy the food instead of having it as takeaway or delivery. And thanks to Oxford Makespace we now do.
What was the inspiration behind Lula’s?
It started as a joke. It wasn’t planned that I’d end up in the food business, even though I’ve always loved cooking for friends and family. I worked in the fashion industry for a long time – it was great, and I thought I’d continue in the fashion world. But as time went by, I found the food business very interesting. I really enjoyed meeting all kinds of people from different backgrounds. I love talking and listening to people; I’ve learned a lot from them, and it really motivated me.
How did you learn to cook?
From my mother, who is an excellent cook. In Ethiopia, everyone generally cooks really well as they start learning from an early age, especially girls. I loved cooking and found it to be an art. Although you have standard recipes, I like to twist them to my own style. It makes it really satisfying when people enjoy my dishes. Overall, I’d describe my food as homecooked with lots of love and care: like what a mum cooks for her family.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running Lula’s?
When I started getting serious about the food business, I had the vision that I would have a permanent location and do it properly. Makespace has allowed me to take that first step. I’m also lucky to have so many supportive customers. It’s especially rewarding to see them come in with their friends and family. At the market, I used to meet people briefly when they picked up their food, but now I see them with their children, grandchildren, sisters, and brothers. They can sit down to enjoy their meal – it’s lovely. My customers are my community.
And the challenges?
To keep my food as authentic as possible, I bring in all my spices from Ethiopia. It’s difficult but I’m lucky that I have relatives who prepare it according to my mother’s specifications. This means that spices such as the Berbere and Shiro are as traditional as can be. The injera bread is also demanding. It takes three days to make one batch, and so you need to stage it right to have fresh every day. Timing is key.
And the most challenging thing? Keeping the quality of the food, customer service and value for money with everything that’s going on. Prices are rising everywhere and it’s difficult to find staff. I want to make the business viable and keep it affordable for my customers.
What are your favourite spots to eat in Oxford?
I don’t have much free time, but I do like to go out to Italian restaurants. I also really like Joe’s in Summertown. It’s my favourite place, and they have lots of nice healthy food. Mostly, I enjoy going for afternoon tea more than a big meal. I’m crazy for afternoon tea and have three or four sets of my own for when my friends come over. There were lots of options when I lived in London, but not so many in Oxford. I’d like to offer afternoon tea at Lula’s soon. When the kitchen is closed between lunch and dinner, we’d have Ethiopian coffee and tea along with small bites such as popcorn and cake. All healthy of course!
What else does the future hold for Lula’s?
It’s my ambition to grow, diversity, and make the Lula brand stronger. The concept is to bring the community together in a nice way – to have the food and the environment. I’m exploring the idea of having a jazz night, where people can sit with their families, enjoy their meal, and listen to some calm jazz music in the background. The customers I’ve spoken to have been really positive about it. Another aim is to have mothers able to gather at Lula’s as a place with lots of space where they can catch up while their children play. We also hope to get back into the Gloucester Green market so people who used to visit us there know we are still around.
When you start a business, you build it up step by step, and learn as you go. I want to apply my experience from fashion – the attention to detail, hard work, being a team player – to the restaurant business. It’s like putting a fashion collection together for the season: you have to think from A to Z, but with food.
Lula’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Cuisine
21 Park End St, Oxford OX1 1HU
We’re looking to publish a new interview each month so you can find out the story behind lots of the incredible eateries across Oxfordshire. Give us a shout if there are any specific places you’d like to hear about. You can find last month’s interview with Table 13 here.