The Garland Bistro closed in early June. Zemam's Ethiopian restaurant will open July 15. 

Arizona Daily Star

The Garland Bistro, one of Tucson's earliest vegetarian-leaning restaurants, closed after nearly four decades in business.

The restaurant at 119 E. Speedway shut its doors in early June after the owners sold the building to Tucson restaurateur Amanuel Gebremariam.

Gebremariam plans to open a second location of his longtime Zemams Ethiopian Cuisine on July 15, once he finishes giving the building a deep cleaning that included replacing the carpet with tile.

The Garland Bistro opened in 1974 in a nondescript house on East Speedway. The menu leaned heavily toward vegetarian and health foods including meal-sized salads, vegetarian lasagna and liberal uses of tofu as a meat substitute.

The vegetarian philosophy continued as the restaurant, which can seat 65, changed hands over the years. The last owners, Susan and Cuong Nguyen, introduced several Vietnamese dishes to the menu soon after taking over the restaurant in 2005.

Zemams' menu also leans heavily toward vegetarian. Dishes inspired by recipes from Gebremariam's mother are anchored by split peas, collard greens and mixed vegetables. Meat dishes - employing beef, chicken, fish and lamb - round out the offerings.

Gebremariam opened Zemams - named for his late mother - in 1996 at 2731 E. Broadway not long after graduating from the University of Arizona. The Ethiopia native came to the U.S. as a refugee of his country's civil war 33 years ago and arrived in Tucson to attend college.

He decided to open a second location to get ahead of plans by the city to widen Broadway to six lanes, which could wipe out businesses in the process, he said.

Construction is not likely to begin until 2016 at the earliest, according to a plan posted on the city's website by the Tucson Department of Transportation.

"I just don't want to wait sleeping there and get kicked out. I just wanted to get a head start and open the restaurant," he said.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.

Published: July 3, 2013