RICHMOND, Va. — For Hamidullah Noori, every day brings a new chance to share a part of himself and his homeland in a new country.
“When I see more people coming in, I feel proud,” he said. “Every morning when I wake up, just coming to work, is another day to serve the community, another day to serve your people.”
Chef Noori, as he’s known, is the owner of “The Mantu,” a restaurant specializing in cuisine from Afghanistan. The restaurant name means "me and you," and he opened it in Richmond, Virginia just a few years ago.
After having worked with Americans in Afghanistan, he and his family were forced to flee the country in 2015 on a Special Immigrant Visa.
“We were threatened by a group called the Taliban and we were not safe,” he said.
Since 2001, approximately 97,000 Afghan refugees have been resettled in the U.S., with the following states receiving the largest share of them:
6. New York
When Chef Noori first arrived in Virginia, though, there were few Afghans around. It was a tough transition.
“We were totally lost because it's a totally different world,” he said.
However, Chef Noori had a dream.
“My dream was, when I came to the United States, was to show off my skills and see if I can bring attention of other people, to introduce Afghani culture,” he said.
Working six days a week, in three different jobs, he started saving money. He also reached out to resettlement agencies that initially helped him and offered his culinary services.
“'If any refugees are coming from Afghanistan or if you guys have any meetings about the refugees, so let me know. I'll bring food and cook,’” he recalled telling them. “So, I used to cook free food for most of these places without charging them anything.”
Soon, word spread. The owner of the restaurant where Chef Noori had been working at the time tried his food.
“He tasted the food and said, ‘Wow, it's really good food,’” he recalled. “And [he] said, ‘I think I can help you to achieve your dream.’”
Through social media, others also stepped forward to help invest in that dream— from helping with kitchen equipment to even creating signage for the restaurant.
“The people of Richmond, as soon as I said, ‘I'm going to open a restaurant,' and they put it in a social media. Every individual came and supported me,” he said.
Now, Chef Noori is paying it forward by cooking food for new refugees now arriving from Afghanistan, letting them know they’re not alone.
“That’s the best thing: to serve your community, to serve your people,” Chef Noori said, “and the best thing would be to serve your culture.”