What do you know about Whitehall? Well, you should know more about this Columbus enclave that was home to the nation’s first shopping center. There’s a soul to this place where community threads are woven into its diverse fabric.
With a blend of residents—46% white, 32% black, 14% Hispanic, 20% non-English speakers with 12% being born outside the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau—Whitehall is home to many proud immigrants making a difference. And there’s no better example of what Whitehall stands for than Freweini (Winnie) Abraham, who proudly operates Flavor 91 Bistro along with her son Moses Hayelom and daughter Winta Hayelom. (The “91” part of the name remains a mystery that only a select few have figured out; but if you do, the owners will donate the amount of your bill to a charity of your choice.)
Born in Ethiopia, Abraham moved to Columbus when she was 17. (Her daughter Winta was born in the Sudan and her son Moses in the US, so the “Flavor Family,” as they like to be known, is a microcosm of Whitehall.) It was Abraham’s upbringing in Ethiopia that introduced her to hard work, farm-fresh food and an ethos that family comes first. That’s why Flavor 91 serves non-GMO, non-antibiotic, hormone-free burgers and sandwiches. They pride themselves on only using responsibly-raised, sustainable, all-natural ingredients. “I am proud of where I am from, but even prouder of where I wound up [in Columbus],” Abraham says. “Whitehall is an up-and-coming place where people from around the world are welcome.”
Flavor 91, which opened in 2016, is a community center of sorts. Where people from all walks of life pass through the Flavor doors to share stories. Flavor 91 pulls from all over Columbus, and in some cases, the country—people stop by on flight layovers all the time thanks to a major social media presence. At the bar you might hear people from Bexley talking to someone from Dublin with someone else from Grandview listening in. It’s a meeting place where cultures come together to enjoy some of the best food in Ohio.
“If you start something good and it’s based in the care for others, people will find their way to it,” says Moses. “You will be surprised who it resonates with.”
When I first walked into Flavor 91 Bistro, I felt the communal energy right away. I knew there was something special about the award-winning burger, soup and wings joint. There was a vibe that felt healthy, authentic and familial. I was greeted by Winta who said, “Welcome to our living room.”
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Situated between a hair salon and a tattoo parlor (the business-savvy Abraham owns the entire building and runs the salon on her spare time), Flavor 91 features live local music and is looking to start a farmers’ market in the parking lot—creating a vibrant community. But what about the food? Man, does the food resonate.
The chicken cream of mushroom soup is so good that it was anointed as the 2018 Souper Bowl XII Cook-off Champion. It’s this savory, heartwarming blend of spices, cream and chicken that would make any doting grandmother proud. And when it comes to their Ethiopian dry-rubbed wings, well, I have never had such a party in my mouth.
But not much can top Flavor 91’s award-winning burgers. The hand-crafted Flavor Burger is a 5.5oz. grass-fed beef burger, seasoned to perfection and topped with pepper jack cheese, beef bacon (cured short rib), spicy flavor sauce, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato and red onion.
What makes the family most proud is keeping it local. They source their meat from RL Valley Ranch, located in Athens, Ohio, and serve craft beer from 2 Tones Brewing Company in Whitehall. It’s obvious the owners take who they do business with very seriously.
“You want to visit the farm and make sure [the cows] are grass fed,” says Abraham. “Sometimes farmers say they feed them grass all-year round, but they don’t always tell the truth. We wanted to see for ourselves.”
The Flavor Family visited the farm and saw a huge reserve of grass that RL Farms stored for the winter months and were sold on the fact that they could tell their customers, without any doubt, they were getting what’s promised. To help reassure their customers, the Flavor Family hosts a farmers’ dinner where their locally sourced Ohio farm suppliers speak to customers about what is being served.
Most people would find it difficult to work with family members. But the Flavor Family has mastered the art of working as a cohesive family.
“Foundationally, we have the most beautiful chemistry,” Winta says. “Our end goal is to support each other through anything.”
From Ethiopia to Whitehall, Abraham has seen a lot. With her family working beside her and her ability to feed the community with health-conscious food, she looks to be right at home. And when I walk through those doors, I feel right at home too.
Flavor 91 is located on 5186 E Main St, for hours and operations, visit flavor91.com.