Meet Leah, Owner @ Settepani, Harlem

Our volunteer design team, led by Jordi Biosca, Design Director at Brick & Wonder member Lang Studio, visited Settepani in Harlem this week to scope out their location for an Open Restaurants structure.

At the site visit, we met Owner Leah Abraham’s daughter, Bilena, and we learned more about their restaurant, Settepani, which has been a neighborhood favorite for 20 years.

Read Leah’s story below. 

BW: Tell us about how you came to open your restaurant.

Leah: I signed the lease in 1999 when Harlem looked very different and the space we now occupy was abandoned. It was actually two separate townhouses that we combined.  The attraction was the Boulevard, the wide sidewalk and the surrounding architecture. We felt we had a great product and we would create a space the community would be proud to have.

BW: What do you love about your local area and community?

Leah: As an immigrant, with family scattered around the world, my community is my home. I chose to raise my family in this community because I felt a sense of belonging and I knew that I mattered, and so did my children.

BW: What do you love about running your restaurant and your customers?

Leah: I love that my customers have a strong sense of ownership. I get a lot of feedback and I know they appreciate the courage it took to take a chance back then and the daily strength it takes to stay relevant.

BW: How has Covid affected your business, and how could having an Open Restaurant structure help?

Leah: Covid was the greatest battle we fought as a group and the greatest display of unity as a community. I was fighting my own health issues, but the community was there every day sending me hope to continue. Our outdoor seating is a clear game changer.  Without the outdoor, I operate at a loss as I have kept my long hours.

BW: You’re stranded on a desert island! Which beverage & menu item from your restaurant would be your one luxury?

Leah: I can’t do without my coffee!  As an Ethiopian, I have spent a lot of time getting the right blend and I can’t do without my coffee. To eat, I’d have a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese – I have a bowl nearly every day for lunch, and if I could smuggle a small piece of Focaccia I would be all set!

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