An Ethiopian Market Thrives in the Heart of Phoenix
Bati Bazaar is a small store, but it’s full of activity. Fassil Yunka perches behind his counter, and he can’t talk for more than a minute before the phone rings. When he picks up the receiver, he alternates between English and Amharic, the most popular Ethiopian language.
Customers push in and out the door. They ask about spices. They browse the coffee sets. They pile their clothes in the corner, where an elder man sits at a sewing machine. The store is long and narrow, with the rhythm of a Brooklyn bodega.
“People come in and say, ‘Oh, man, you bring a lot of memories back to me,’” says Yunka. “The smell, all the different variety of spices. There is a fusion of scent and environment that brings a lot of homesickness – and satisfaction.”
Bati Bazaar is located in a strip mall along an unremarkable stretch of McDowell Road. You could easily drive by and never spot it. But for the Valley’s Ethiopian community, Bati is a touchstone. This is a place where immigrants can find long-lost products, hard-to-find ingredients, and a merchant who intimately knows their culture.
“I have cookies, they call them Abu Walad,” says Yunka. “Everybody grew up on these. It’s the Oreo of Africa. Every grownup buys it when they see it.”
Yunka opened Bati Bazaar with his mother in April 2010. In only six years, Bati has become more than a little ethnic shop: Customers can get their clothes mended, wire money to relatives in East Africa, and even participate in the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Fassil Yunka stands before his racks of spices