Salute’s Menbere Aklilu receives Jefferson Award honoring community volunteerism

Launch party for Menbe's Way Fund on Aug. 23 to kick-start expansion of Salute owner's charitable efforts
Salute owner Menbere Aklilu said she was overwhelmed by the community's support for her restaurant's annual Thanksgiving event.

Richmond’s beloved restauranteur, Menbere Aklilu, was recently featured in a KPIX (Ch. 5) report after receiving the prestigious Jefferson Award honoring community and public volunteerism.

The owner of Salute e Vita Ristorante at 1900 Esplanade Drive is well-known locally for various charitable works she organizes through her popular restaurant. Every Thanksgiving, she invites local homeless and struggling veterans into Salute’s for a fine-dining meal. She served about 1,300 last Thanksgiving.

Aklilu also holds etiquette courses at her restaurant for local youth, which not only teaches manners but also life lessons.

What’s most impressive is that Aklilu came from incredible struggle. She was raised in Ethiopia, where her mother ran a hotel and restaurant. Aklilu says she witnessed her mother being murdered by a customer over an unpaid bill.

Later in life after moving to Italy, Aklilu became the victim of domestic violence. After escaping her husband, she lived in a homeless shelter while pregnant. She gave birth to her son in Mother Theresa’s homeless shelter.

She would later rebound with the help of a single caring person who helped her open her restaurant.

Aklilu said her mother also used her restaurant to give back to the community, so she wants to do the same.

The gorgeous aspect of this story is that Aklilu has inspired the Richmond community to give back.

Community members and business representative came out in droves to contribute to her Thanksgiving event last year. Richmond Wholesale donated 60 turkeys, Richmond-based Hartmann Studios lent silverware, plates, glasses and tents where flu shots were given to homeless and veterans. The Richmond Police Department lent a van to help transport veterans between the restaurant and BART Station. Galaxy Desserts provided desserts.

“People are coming in one after the other,” Akililu remarked at the time.

She said she never imagined the event would get so big after just four years.

“I am so fortunate,” Akililu said.  “I am so blessed. I am so lucky.”