Fusion: Ekiben takes an interdisciplinary approach to the restaurant biz

On a typical Saturday, in the wee hours of the morning — we’re talking two or three a.m. — Nikhil Yesupriya ’13, biological sciences, Steve Chu ’12, economics, and Ephrem Abebe ’13, information systems, are in the kitchen of Chu’s father’s restaurant in Pikesville, chopping, mixing, steaming. By 7:30, they’ve set up shop at the Fells Point Farmers Market, serving up their take on Asian fusion cuisine at the Ekiben food stand.

Ekiben got its start slinging steamed buns and rice bowls at the farmers’ market, and now, roughly a year and a half later, they’re opening a brick-and-mortar location at 1622 Eastern Avenue in Fells. The name refers to the elegant boxed lunches served on Japanese bullet trains, and on the morning we visited, the stand was serving up chicken meatballs seasoned with soy and five-spice powder, pork vindaloo with local veggie salsa, and tofu curry dotted with green peas.

They’ve made a few other notable appearances in the region since they started, in places like DC’s Emporiyum festival, TEDx Baltimore, and UMBC’s own Homecoming carnival. Their story — three college guys getting together on Friday nights to cook for Habitat for Humanity bake sales before combining their unique talents and interests to start a successful business — is a uniquely UMBC tale of entrepreneurship.

Ekiben’s cuisine was inspired, in part, by the many cultural events they were able to attend as undergrads. “We’d go to all these cultural shows, any dinner that SASA [South Asian Student Association] or FASA [Filipino American Student Association] or the Asian Student Association was having, and we just loved eating their food,” says Yesupriya.

“It sounds like kind of a college thing to do…you want free food, you go to wherever there is free food. But we really enjoyed going to these places and experiencing the food and making friends with these people and cooking with them,” he adds.

Combining their experiences cooking for themselves, for their friends, and in real restaurants, the three incorporated a business and opened the stand in August 2014. Chu, in addition to being the son of a restaurateur, used to manage a Chipotle, and worked for a time for a chef in New York. He’s now Ekiben’s executive chef. Abebe is the logistics guy, making sure the booth is set up and running properly at the farmers’ market and other venues. Yesupriya is responsible for marketing the stand and engaging with customers.

With two out of the three pursuing graduate study at UMBC, and with their permanent location set to open soon, the guys have been running the stand with the help of a small cadre of interns, including Bona Lee ’09, psychology and sociology, one of their old friends from Habitat for Humanity. Lee works full time at a payroll office and helps out at Ekiben in her spare time, drawing the day’s specials on the chalkboard and helping to prep, plate, and serve the food. “[It’s a] labor of love,” she says.

Love for the food, love for the customers, and love for the city of Baltimore.

Julia Celtnieks ’13
Video by Elena DeBold ’10

Connect with Ekiben on Facebook or Instagram

Hrabowski and alumni entrepreneurs featured in SmartCEO

HRABOWSKISmartCEO has published a feature-length profile on UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. In addition to an overview of the President’s career in academia and his approach to education, the article dedicates much of its length to Dr. Hrabowski’s role in the bwtech research park and his encouragement of alumni entrepreneurship.

Several UMBC alumni now either work for companies based in the research park or run them, and the ones interviewed for this article point to their UMBC experience and connection with Dr. Hrabowski as positives in their entrepreneurial journey. According to the article, companies “[draw on] help from UMBC faculty and doctoral students to help in solving complex problems,” and many alumni who have gone on to start their own firms cite Dr. Hrabowski as a mentor.

“I literally don’t make any major life decision without checking in with him first,” says Delali Dzirasa ‘04, computer engineering, CEO of the software company Fearless Solutions.

SmartCEO also had some UMBC alumni working behind the scenes on the article. Mitro Hood ’89, visual and performing arts (photography), photographed the President for the feature, and Erica Wood ’00, visual and performing arts, art directed the piece.

In a separate article for SmartCEO, Dr. Hrabowski contributed his own thoughts on Baltimore’s present and future to the #CEOsLoveBaltimore initiative, which began in the wake of civil unrest over the death of Freddie Gray:

What gives me hope is the honest look we are all taking at our city’s most pressing problems — from academic achievement gaps to health disparities — and our willingness to embrace these struggles. We understand that business development and community development are inextricably linked, and we know we have the brainpower and the passion to build a better future for all Baltimore residents. We are all Baltimore.

Learn more about Dr. Hrabowski’s involvement with and contributions to the university.

Alums in the News: Griner, VanDyke, Doyle, Cangialosi, Clements, and Arthurs

Here at UMBC, we take pride in what our alums accomplish after graduation. Take a moment to see which Retrievers have been on the move and making news!

Anita GrinerFormer UMBC professor and alumna Anita Griner ’99, psychology, was recently appointed Chief Performance Officer of Cognosante. In addition to her work as a graduate professor at UMBC, where she taught advanced program management sciences, Griner has experience with large IT and healthcare programs. Cognosante focuses on aiding healthcare services, specifically dealing with Health Reform initiatives using technology and BPO services. Read full article.


photo via washingtonpost.comMaureen Evans Arthurs ’13, gender and women’s studies, recently took to the Washington Post blog with an essay exploring the way in which black women are often profiled as sex workers. The piece, written in response to a recent tweet by Ebony editor Jamilah Lemieux, was titled “I’m a black woman with a white husband. People assume I’m a prostitute all the time.” In it, Maureen shared her own experiences and  sparked conversation around the internet about the reality of racial profiling even in communities that pride themselves on diversity and inclusion. Read the full article.


photo via pointandshootfilm.comYou may recall Matthew VanDyke ’02, political science, who was in the news in 2011 due to his fighting and imprisonment during the conflict in Libya. A film based on his experiences recently won Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary, titled “Point and Shoot,” is now in theaters in various parts of the nation and numerous festivals across the world. On November 25, the film will come to Baltimore. Check here for location, dates, and more information.


photo via citybizlist.comPatrick Doyle ’10 M.A., applied sociology, ’12 Ph.D., gerontology, recently presented a seminar on dementia at Brightview Arlington, an assisted living facility in Virginia. His talk, titled, “Remembering the Past and Respecting the Present: A Recipe for Successful Interactions with People Living with Dementia,” covered the effects dementia has on the perception of reality. Dr. Doyle shared communication tips to improve connection between family and friends living with dementia. Read more.

Recently, UMBC alumni Greg Cangialosi ’96, English, and James Clements ’85 computer science; ’91 M.S. and ’93 Ph.D., operations analysis, were chosen to serve on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In total, 27 people were appointed to work with the NACIE, all focusing on issues relating to the improvement of the competitive workforce. Full list of members.

Have a story of your own to share? Submit a class note.

Highlights from the 2014 Alumni Awards

The long Homecoming Weekend was kicked off in a big way on Thursday, October 9, with the annual Alumni Awards Ceremony.

This year, the ceremony was held in the stunning Performing Arts and Humanities Building Concert Hall, with receptions preceding and following the event in the Dance Tech Studio.

Those in attendance were treated to speeches by the honorees, as well as lots of smiles and laughter.

And of all of the quotes about the night, Director of Alumni Relations Stanyell Odom said it best: “This year’s winners are an outstanding representation of UMBC. All of the members of our community should be proud of their accomplishments and contributions to the campus and their respective professions.”

Congratulations, Alumni Awards winners of 2014!

Please enjoy a slideshow of pictures taken at the event by photographer Marlayna Demond ’11.

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Meet the Newest Alums: Carpenter, Scheerer, Krach, and Berghaus

UMBC is always full of hard-working people who aspire to do great things, and the class of 2014 is no exception. Today, we wanted to share with you what some of our recent graduates are planning to do with their Retriever education.

Carpenter2014-7121_mod Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar Meghan Carpenter, political science, used her interest in politics to to focus on education policy. She was the director of the Office of Community and Government Relations in the Student Government Association and a Governor’s Summer Intern at the Maryland State Department of Education. As a student, Carpenter proposed a budget to the Maryland General Assembly that would aim to reduce textbook prices. She now works as the Director of Policy and Research for the
Eric Ebersole campaign for State Delegate.

Scheerer2014-7071_modEditor of the Technology Section in The Retriever Weekly for several years, Emily Scheerer, computer science, was also a Center for Women in Technology Scholar, and interned with the Department of Defense and Booz Allen Hamilton. During her spare time, she worked as a UMBC Welcome Week Leader (Woolie) and was president of the UMBC Ballroom Dance Team. Now, Scheerer plans to continue her education at UMBC and earn an M.S. in computer science.

Krach2014-6853_modKelsey Krach, cultural anthropology and Spanish, was both a Sondheim Scholar and a valedictorian finalist for the Class of 2014. She interned with the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and Amnesty International USA. Krach also lead an Alternative Spring Break so other students could learn about refugees in Baltimore, won the Outstanding Student in Anthropology Award, and became a member of many honor societies. She now plans to do non-profit community development work.

ABerghaus2014-6824_mod native of Germany, Kim Berghaus, physics, dedicated her time at UMBC to her school work and the Women’s Tennis team. She earned the Outstanding Graduating Senior Physics Award, the Joseph F. Mulligan Memorial Lectureship, and was name the Matt Skalsky Outstanding UMBC Scholar. Berghaus was also excellent on the court. She was named the Most Valuable Player for the 2014 season, was a member of the America East Tennis All-Academic Squad, and was the first Retriever to be nationally ranked in women’s tennis. Her freshman year, she was named America East Conference Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. Berghaus now works in Dr. Giuliano Scarcelli’s Lab at the Harvard Medical School.

Read more about the Class of 2014!

Go O’s!

Baltimore has been practically giddy in the wake of the Orioles’ first round playoff win, which ushers the team into the Championship Series and one step closer to the World Series. And as the O’s get ready to take on the Kansas City Royals, we’d like to take a moment to highlight two UMBC alums who have also recently made the Orioles-related news.

Sergeant First Class Michael Zambito ’99, geography, was honored in Oriole Park’s Salute to Military Service during Game 1 of the Orioles playoffs last Thursday. The Salute is sponsored by the O’s and Bank of America and honors local service men and women for their service and sacrifice. Zambito attended UMBC on the GI Bill.

And Lauren Hall ’10, psychology and sociology; ’14 M.A., sociology, has been making the social media rounds with her clever parody of Lorde’s “Royals.” As the video steadily climbs towards 75,000 views, Hall is understandably overwhelmed by the enthusiastic reception. “I think it’s kind of funny,” Hall said in a WBALTV interview, “I wasn’t expecting the response that I got.” Hall is currently a University of Maryland research analyst.

And if any of you folks are on Twitter, keep an eye on #wewontstop. Let’s keep it trending all the way to a World Series win.

Stories of a Big City Farm Girl edition 3

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of three posts from Lexi, our summer intern here in the Alumni Communications office, about her experiences as a new-to-Baltimore student.

Even though everyone on the East Coast eats relatively the same things – meat, seafood, corn, potatoes – there are two foods that are incredibly underestimated by those not from the Delmarva and Pennsylvania area: Old Bay and scrapple.

photo via Huffington Post

I grew up with Old Bay as a seasoning for anything and everything crab. Crab bisque, steamed crabs, crab cakes, even on some sushi that had crab in it. You could say I liked it. I didn’t have an obsession with it, but I thought it tasted good on crab dishes. Then I came to Maryland, land of crabs and Old Bay. I soon found Old Bay on my potato chips, in my burgers, and on my french fries. I didn’t complain; I thought, Maybe this was just a Baltimore thing. They gotta live up to the “Crab Capital of the World” standard. Sure, it’s good, but I didn’t see the need to put Old Bay on every meal I ate. Until one day, not too long ago, I was feeling creative, and put Old Bay in my mac ‘n cheese.

Holy crab, I have never been more pleased with my cooking. It was salty, yet refreshing. Spicy, yet savory. The cheese and Old Bay mixed perfectly. I’ve been missing THIS? I thought to myself. I finally understood. It was amazing, and after that fateful dinner, I never looked back. I keep a small shaker of Old Bay in my purse now for special occasions. Don’t judge me, I’m sure some of you do it, too.

But there was a small curve ball to some of my more foreign friends: scrapple.

One of my roommates is from Massachusetts. They have similar seafood, meat, and vegetables to us here in the mid-atlantic, but she had never heard of scrapple. I take it some of those reading this won’t know what it is, either. Well I’m not going to tell you, and I would suggest you don’t ask. Scrapple is meat, and that’s all you need to know.

photo via iwillaremedy.com
photo via iwillaremedy.com

For Easter during my sophomore year, my roommate came home with me to Delaware soshe didn’t have to stay at school for the holiday. My mom is an excellent cook, which no one who has eaten anything she’s ever made can deny. So when she put down a plate of scrapple in front of us for breakfast, in all its square, brown, squishy, burnt-looking glory, my Bostonian roommate was very skeptical. She poked it, picked one up, and put it on her plate. I did the same, but took three slices. I love scrapple. She asked what it was after dissecting it. I just smirked. I tried to tell her gently that it tastes really good, but if you know what’s in it, you won’t want it.

I think she had decided she didn’t like scrapple before she even tried. The instant it touched her tongue, her face turned green and she spit it back out onto her plate. I’ll admit, depending on how it’s cooked, scrapple can have a pretty weird texture to it. But put a little dab of syrup or a dollop of ketchup on it, and that’s one of the best breakfast sides you can make. Heck, even a scrapple sandwich is good (a specialty of the Delaware State Fair).

When we got back to school, I was still a little shocked my roommate had never heard of scrapple before. So, I asked around. Turns out, scrapple is very much a Delaware and Pennsylvania thing, and isn’t common in Maryland. A lot of people are missing out on this loosely-dubbed delicacy.

In one short year, my food world had been nearly turned upside-down. Old Bay goes with anything, not just crab-related foods. Scrapple is either considered gross and disgusting or simply isn’t offered. In a few short months, my culinary mind had been fried. I bet if someone put Old Bay on scrapple, more people in Maryland would eat it.

-Lexi Coon