From Afghanistan to Edgewater: Local Restaurant Owner Talks About His Journey to Opening Up His First Restaurant

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By: Kyle Boone (Loyola Junior)

Delicious. Wonderful. Excellent. 

These are just a few of the many things said by customers after eating the food at Edgewater’s very own Afghan Saray (6141 N Broadway).

Isa Ebrahimi (36) grew up in a small city in the northeastern corner of Afghanistan called Badkhshan. Ebrahimi’s Dad left for the Army when he was 10-years-old and never came back, leaving him to support his family as they moved from place to place in order to survive.

At 19, Ebrahimi and his family moved to Iran, where he started working construction in order to help make money to support his family. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Ebrahimi and his family were refugees he was unable to get the necessary documentation in Iran.

The next 5 years Ebrahimi found himself moving about Turkey in order to make a living income for him and his family.

Being refugees,  Ebrahimi and his family applied to immigrate to the U.S. He was a translator for nearly two years until he was notified that the U.S. had accepted him and his family to come to America.

Ebrahimi and his family’s story to America is nothing short of inspiring. I sat down further with him to figure out what his motivation was once arriving in the U.S. in 2016 and how he got to own his first restaurant. 

*Interview has been edited for length and clarity

RogersEdge Reporter: You faced a lot of adversity before arriving in America. How did it feel to finally be accepted to come to the U.S.?

Ebrahimi: [It felt] Super good! I worked for money and family. Normal people work 8 a.m.-4 p.m., but I was active 24 hours. Before I came to America, I thought I was going to go to Canada. After I came to America and saw all of the U.S., I saw how lucky I was to come to the U.S. 

RER: Once you arrived in Chicago, what were your next steps for you and your family?

Ebrahimi: The U.S. Refugee program helped out with almost everything for 6 months. I was walking down Broadway with only $2 in my pocket. I started going to the English school near Lawrence which I would walk to every day. For 1 year, I started working for more than 10 jobs. Then one guy told me, when you are working more than 10 jobs no one is going to accept you. I told him I do not care about that, because the whole time I am working [to have] my own business. After that, I started with Lyft and Uber for almost 1 year. After that I go down to Florida to get my CDL (Commercial Drivers License). Then I came back to Chicago [to start truck driving]. Then I opened up my small trucking company. After I opened up my company everything was good, I’m making money, but I made the same mistake that happened in Iran. When I got the money, I couldn’t control it. In the last year my transactions were half a million. And now I’m negative $80,000.

RER: Did COVID-19 play a role in your struggle to maintain your business?

Ebrahimi: This happened [debt] because of COVID and because of the market crashing. When I see something happening to the market and that my company is not going to be stable. I said okay, I have to be doing something and right away open the restaurant. Before I opened up the restaurant, I took my family to a couple and asked them how they felt about the idea of starting a restaurant. They said that it was good. I did a couple big parties with 100-200 people and everyone liked it. After that, I said I’m good to go. I built everything [inside the restaurant]. 

RER: What brings people to come in and try your food?

Ebrahimi: I go outside because people are looking and say, “Hey, I’m going to give you a free sample.” So they try a dish, then I give them a different dish. I tell them, if you don’t like it, just leave it and then I’ll get whatever you like. That’s why the restaurant keeps going. God thanks, the restaurant is good now.

RER: When I came in with my friends it was such a memorable experience. You’re so hospitable and nice. It seems like as I’ve been watching people come in and out, that this is how you are to everyone. So can you explain the experience you are trying to give the customer?

Ebrahimi: When any customer comes and they tell me the food is delicious. I honestly don’t know what delicious means. After opening the restaurant customers say the food is delicious, and I say thank you. I just keep running. If I ask someone if they like something and they say no. Let’s say you talk to me and say no like 100 times, all the time I will keep asking and never give up making sure they get what they want.

RER: From observing your work and your story, you’re always running around. Your restaurant is open every day but Tuesday. Do you rest on your off day, or are you still working?

Ebrahimi: On Tuesdays I’m still working but not full, like a half day because I still work for my trucking company.

RER: What are your future plans moving forward?

Ebrahimi: I’m going to make the restaurant bigger. I have a patio in the back [that isn’t open], and I got a plan for the front.

Feel free to stop by and talk to Isa and try his restaurant’s amazing food. It is located at 6141 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60660 and is available on UberEats and Grubhub. You can also call them at (773) 654-1759. Hope you enjoy!

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