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At a busy taxi stop, one man has gotten creative with an immobile minibus; serving besso, the traditional ground barley shake to peckish people in transit, looking for a quick and filling drink in-between taxis, writes  MIREILLE DE VILLIERS, SPECIAL TO FORTUNE.

Besso Comes to Town



Meskerem Basazenew (right) serves besso to Nega Aferas (left), a taxi assistant (woyala), out of the minibus that has been turned into an eatery.

Bole Deldey is a very busy taxi stop, with a constant milling of people and taxi traffic, where one white minibus stands quietly and still to the side. The minibus stands out being completely white and stationary, in contrast to the bustling, ever-moving blue and white buses that operate as taxis.

Humna Besso, which is operated out of the minibus, has been offering customers an alternative to the predominantly greasy street food being sold there, for three months. Some vendors have sambusas, biscuits, and sometimes doughnuts displayed in small plastic baskets on tables. They also serve sweet, hot tea out of flasks to the passengers in transit, hurrying between taxis.

Standing right next to the other food vendors, slightly out of the traffic and to the side of the lot under the bridge, the white minibus’s windows are covered in posters. At first, it appears to be merely an advertisement but closer inspection reveals that the minibus serves as a besso shop. The posters, featuring pictures of a girl, now drinking a besso shake(mix), now running though a field of barley, is appropriately wholesome, resembling the goodness implies by the barley shake served inside.

The inside of the minibus has been altered to better resemble a restaurant: The black and red leather seats, totalling five, have been rearranged so that the “kitchen” is where the backseat use to be, separated from the rest of the interior by a green curtain; the seats in the row second from the back have remained, and three seats, facing in, have been placed where the front two rows of seats once were. In the middle is a small wooden table to place one’s sweetened ground barley drink on.

The thick barley shake is prepared with finely ground barley, which is mixed with water and a small amount of sugar.

“I do not know about how healthy it is, but I like it too much and have it almost every day,” Daniel Tassew, the owner of Humna Besso, told Fortune. 

 Daniel, who works as a medical laboratory technician by day and manages the shop in his spare time, drives the minibus home every night.

“My need was to work in a unique job,” he said of his out of the ordinary venture, which is also very profitable.

The minibus cost around 68,000 Br to buy and stands at the taxi stop all day, for free, without the wear and tear of being driven up and down all day long. While the other food vendors at the taxi stop under the bridge sell mostly greasy, fatty, starchy food stuffs, Daniel has identified the gap in the market for a healthy, filling snack. The result is a profitable business with the minimum of overhead costs.

The door of Humna Besso, standing wide open, attracts the beggars, who are many in the area due to so many people passing through the area for the biggest part of each day. Outside the minibus, the taxis go by non-stop, yelling for “Mexico, Mexico!” and picking passengers up. People hurry from the taxi dropping them off, to the next one to take them to their aimed destination, sometimes pausing to give money to a beggar, sometimes rushing straight past.

People often have to push for a place at the door of an approaching taxi in order to be the first to enter and to secure a seat on the minibus, which is sometimes very full in itself, especially during rush-hour traffic when many people are in transit, or when it is raining and people who would otherwise walk, prefer to ride as well.



Situated at a busy taxi stop, many of Humna Besso's regualr customers, like Abay H.Micheal (Center)and Epresem Awoke (Right), are taxi drivers.


It is these people who are the target group that Humna Besso aims to serve. Eyuael Solomon, 19, a business management student, is one happy customer who saw the sign in front of the minibus in passing by one day on his way from his home in Sabit to Edna Mall. He does not know of any other place serving it (although there are some).

“Your mother would make it at home; it is a traditional drink,” he said. “It is very good, especially during times of fasting when people do not eat for a whole day and then suddenly eat a lot, which might upset their stomachs.”

Humna prepares 20 litres with a blender, prior to arriving at the taxi stop in the mornings. This usually finishes within half a day, according to Meskerem Basazenew, 16, a high school student working in Humna during her keremt vacation. She prepares an additional nine litres manually in a bucket, with a whisk, to ensure the ground barley dissolves completely, and adds honey according to the customer’s preference which adds a sweet flavour to the wholesome barley goodness.

Eyuael has his drink to go (6 Br), which seems smaller than the 500 ml of a glass (5.50 Br), in addition to a straw, although one suspects the drink to possibly be too thick for that. The besso shop is open from 8:30am to 6:30pm, Monday to Saturday. However, a Wednesday afternoon at 4:00pm, finds Eyuael the only customer in the tiny shop, waiting for his takeaway.

Mornings are their busiest times, said Meskerem. On average, they serve about 60 customers a day.

“If I had used it as a taxi, I would make about 120 to 150 Br profit a day while, as this, the minimum is 150 Br,” said Daniel. “On average, we make about 200 to 250 Br a day.”

It can be agreed that it is quite a big difference, in addition to which the minibus remains in excellent condition and while the minibus does not compete with the taxis, the drivers frequent the area, and have besso, all day long.












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