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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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‘7-Eleven Guy’ lives dream, brings family to America

Fekadu Gebreyohannes came to Dallas from Ethiopia in 1991. He began his career by working the night shift at his brother’s 7-Eleven. When the position opened for manager of the Hillcrest location, he embraced the opportunity.
Photo courtesy of Paul Gleiser
Fekadu Gebreyohannes came to Dallas from Ethiopia in 1991. He began his career by working the night shift at his brother’s 7-Eleven. When the position opened for manager of the Hillcrest location, he embraced the opportunity.

Fekadu Gebreyohannes came to Dallas from Ethiopia in 1991. He began his career by working the night shift at his brother’s 7-Eleven. When the position opened for manager of the Hillcrest location, he embraced the opportunity. (Photo courtesy of Paul Gleiser)

The store sparkles. The floor is spotless. The hum of the slurpee machines and beverage coolers resonate in a calm, constant hum.

When you walk into the 7-Eleven on the corner of Hillcrest and Asbury, across the street from the SMU campus, Fekadu Gebreyohannes greets his customers as if welcoming them to his home.

Whether he is stocking the fridges or running the cash register, Gebreyohannes is always greeting his customers. He has come to know many by name, but few know his. To them, he’s “the 7-Eleven guy.”

They have no idea he’s actually the owner of the store. They know nothing of the sacrifices he has made to be here.

Behind his ever-present smile is a story waiting to be told. He came to America from Ethiopia in 1991 with nothing.

Today, he is living the American dream.

Flight from Communism

Gebreyohannes came from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. He is one of nine children. His father was a successful banker and his mother worked for the post office. The Communist regime in power took away nearly all of their property. When Gebreyohannes turned 18, he wanted to avoid mandatory military service for the Communists. He accepted an academic scholarship to study agronomy in Moscow.

He arrived in Russia at 18 not knowing a word of Russian.

After two years in Russia, Gebreyohannes traveled to the German Democratic Republic as a summer tourist. He crossed the border in Berlin to the free side of the city telling border agents he was going to shop.

He knew he would never come back.

All his worldly possessions fit in a small suitcase, his books, a dictionary and some clothes.

He lived in a refugee camp for two years waiting for his chance to come to America.

“It was very boring. Many of my friends were drunk all day. But I told my friends no way, you have to have hope,” he said.

Gebreyohannes finally arrived in the United States at age 23.

He had a brother living in Dallas who was working for 7-Eleven. So, that is where his new life began.

He enrolled in Brookhaven College with dreams of becoming a pharmacist and worked the graveyard shift at 7-Eleven.

After being robbed at gunpoint at work, Gebreyohannes gave up the night shift. He also gave up his dream of becoming a pharmacist, exchanging it for the chance to be a manager with 7-Eleven. He worked extremely hard and ultimately became a corporate trainer, troubleshooting store problems and training employees throughout Dallas.

“The secret is hard work,” Gebreyohannes said.

An American Success Story

Within 10 years Gebreyohannes had doubled his salary and was coaching managers on how to run their stores.

When 7-Eleven began franchising stores in 2007, Gebreyohannes applied to own the one near SMU. Ten others were vying for the same location, but Gebreyohannes got it.

He had worked for the company for nearly 20 years, and he’d worked hard.

By 1991 there were an estimated 50,000 to 75,000 Ethiopians living in the U.S. according to everyculture.com. The Federation For American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimated that Ethiopian immigrants were the seventh largest population of immigrants to the Dallas area between 1991 and 1998. Catholic Charities of Dallas provides resettlement assistance to 500 refugees each year, many of them Ethiopians.

“Everything they own is in their hands,” Mary Jo Dorn, catholic charities communications director said. “They have an incredible desire to work hard and make a life for themselves. They are going to do whatever it takes, and that is the history of America. They are the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.”

Gebreyohannes has now brought his mother, three sisters and his younger brother to America from Ethiopia. They live in the home he bought for them. His brother is getting his Masters Degree in Biochemistry.

Though Gebreyohannes was able to give his family the “American Dream,” his dreams are not yet fulfilled.

“I want to be a businessman with two or three 7-Elevens. I know it will take two to three years,” he said.

Fekadu, Gebreyohannes’ first name, means “God’s will.” However, he believes in hard work and determination.

“See in this country, if you work hard you can get what you want,” Gebreyohannes said.

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