Story by Tina-Tien Nguyen | Photography by Kathy Tran

MODERENA BAKERY AND CAFÉ opened on Forest Lane in June, bringing a taste of authentic East African cuisine to Lake Highlands. Coffee, pastries and all-day breakfast are on the menu alongside Eritrean dishes such as ful, made with fava beans, olive oil and spices; fata, a kind of bread salad with tomatoes; and kicha fit-fit, shredded flatbread or injera with spiced clarfied butter and berbere. “I saw no coffee places with breakfast, aside from Starbucks down the street, and was thinking this could be a great addition to the neighborhood,” owner Robel Tsegay says.

Tsegay’s parents ran convenience stores and restaurants when he was growing up, and he managed a coffee shop in Eritrea. He worked at Whole Foods after arriving in the United States in 2006 and later ran a trucking operations company and worked at a convenience store.

“I love working directly with people, so I wanted to create something related to making food again,” Tsegay says.

Breakfast items are most popular at Moderena, Tsegay says.

“We cook everything fresh,” he says.

Richardson-based Eiland Coffee Roasters provides blends from Columbia, Ethiopia and Guatemala. Coffee drinks like espresso, macchiato and cappuccino are steamed to perfection, Tsegay says. Almond and oat milks are available, as well as tea, frappes and mango or strawberry smoothies.

“Making a cup of macchiato reminds me of back home, and sometimes customers will even drive all the way from Fort Worth or Allen just for it,” he says. “It makes me feel so good to know people enjoy it as much as I do.”

Grab pastries such as tiramisu, diplomat cream, black-and-white forest cake, vegan marble pound cake and mille-feuille before they sell out. The moist, delicately balanced cakes are baked in house daily, along with muffins, creampuffs and donut croissants. Order birthday and celebration cakes 24 hours in advance.

Moderena also serves nine flavors from Villa Dolce Gelato: lemon, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, maple pecan, caramel sea salt, pistachio, hazelnut, and Tsegay’s favorite, roasted banana dulce de leche. One scoop costs $2 and two scoops are $4.

Children and families are welcome in the café, and a lounge area on one side creates a quiet place to get some work done. This used to be Coach’s Burger and Varsity Grill, and some aspects of that remain, such as the red light fixtures.

Moderena is a family business. Tsegay’s brother Haile Gebre Michael does the accounting, inventor y and paperwork.

Tsegay named the restaurant Moderena because he sees it as a “modern” version of Starbucks or Panera Bread, and he says neighbors couldn’t wait for him to open it.

He expects to expand the menu soon with light dinner entrees, sandwiches, salads and cookies.

“I’m so happy to be here, engaging with all the customers that enjoy the food and atmosphere and are so welcoming to us,” he says. “Everyone has been so supportive.”

Moderna Bakery and Café, 9310 Forest Lane, 469.342.1704