A lot of discussion in the news has thrown the idea of immigration into a controversial light. In truth, the “American Dream” has always been open to newcomers and natives alike. And that’s something we can all celebrate. One refugee family who started a successful business in Knoxville, Tennessee, found that out when they were awarded for the warm hospitality of the establishment they created.
Syrian native Yassin Terou fled his home country seeking asylum in 2011, arriving in the United States and settling with his family in the Appalachian town. Almost a decade later, he’s become a small business owner selling falafels to locals and having such a positive impact in his community that his business was named Reader’s Digest’s “Nicest Place in America” in October of 2018.
Like many immigrants who first landed in America at various points in history, Terou found himself with just a suitcase and a few hundred dollars to his name—and no clear-cut path to financial stability. He decided to try living the American Dream by starting a business that never goes out of style: food.
At first, he cooked and sold falafels out of his local mosque. When he was able to, though, he moved his operations to a proper restaurant called “Yassin’s Falafel House,” launching a campaign of tolerance and positivity to provide a safe haven for everyone in Knoxville.
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Outside of his restaurant, there is a sign. It reads “Good Food, Good Friends, Good Times,” then below that, it spells out “Welcome all sizes, all colors, all ages, all sexes, all cultures, all religions, all types, all beliefs, all people, safe here at Yassin’s Falafel House.” The words are written in a bright, colorful rainbow—a reminder, he said, that he’s here to promote the American Dream.
“I sat in the corner of my restaurant one day and watched the people,” Terou said, speaking with Knox News. “There was a lady from the African-American community at one table, a pastor of a church at another, there was a table of young guys, a super conservative guy having lunch, and a group of Indian ladies that come often. They all were there at the same time, and I think, ‘This is what makes Yassin’s different. We welcome all of them. They are all sitting and eating and laughing. This is what America is.’”
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Tennessee isn’t a place many would expect to be a thriving center of foreign culture, as even those who nominated Terou for the Reader’s Digest honors admitted. But despite the reputation that America’s Appalachia can have, the Syrian family persevered and continued to shower their community with love—and seven years after they first hit American soil, their community is showing them love right back.
In addition to the Reader’s Digest award, Yassin’s restaurant won the Knoxville News Sentinel’s 2018 Best of Knoxville award for Best Middle Eastern Food—and Terou himself earned the Rotary Club of Knoxville’s 2018 Peace Award. He was then named the News Sentinel’s Person of the Year, rounding out the outpouring of love for all he’s done for his community.
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“Yassin has shown not only East Tennessee, but America as well, what kindness looks like. Tennessee hasn’t always been the most welcoming of places for immigrants and people of color, but Yassin, advocating for acceptance of all people, has made our state a better place. He opened his restaurant to help those affected by hurricane Florence. Yassin Terou truly represents what it means to be an American,” Knoxville resident David Byrn wrote, nominating Terou for Knoxville’s Person of the Year to go with his restaurant’s accolades.
In the last year, Terou has managed to open up a second restaurant, showing just how strong his success has been.
The food may be delicious, but it’s the inclusivity of the restaurant that truly makes Terou’s business stand out.
“Y’all mean[s] All,” the company wrote on Facebook. “Difference has never been a problem, and it always makes better the world.”