My Kabul Helps Afghan refugees with home-style food
By Jessie Newburn
My Kabul on Baltimore Avenue is much more than a new restaurant focused on authentic, home-cooked style Afghan food.
It is a place where Afghans can feel at home.
“Creating a place where people feel safe to share their trauma and connect with other refugees is part of our mission and vision,” said Khalis Noori, 33. “Counseling is taboo in Afghanistan but gathering together for a meal is normal and desired, so My Kabul helps do the same work, but in a different environment.” My Kabul also offers refugees a 25% discount on meals.
Noori was 13 when the U.S. entered Afghanistan to fight off the Taliban and help the country have a chance at modern governance. Like many in the capital city of Kabul, he took advantage of new opportunities such as learning English and expanding his education, traveling to England to earn degrees in international politics.
In August 2021, when the U. S. pulled out of Afghanistan, Noori was about to start a new job with the minister of finance as an aid coordinator working with countries, foundations and organizations that wished to sponsor the development of schools, roads and other infrastructure projects. He and his wife were evacuated to the U.S., and Noori was hired by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. He was soon named director of field operations, helping 1,400 Afghan refugees get stabilized with homes and rent subsidies, enrolling children in schools, helping people with medical appointments and, overall, helping the refugees acclimate to life here.
But he could only do so much in his role. He knew many families were struggling and that many of them had skills that could help them become self-sufficient and integrated members of their community.
Noori thought that opening a restaurant might fill the bill, offering jobs and sweat-equity positions through which refugees could contribute labor above and beyond just working at the restaurant. If successful, the restaurant model could be replicated, creating opportunities for other refugees to stabilize and become self-sufficient.
Noori turned to the Service Core of Retired Executives for guidance. A good friend of his from Saudi Arabia, who owns several successful restaurants, flew over to help him develop the business plan, figure out pricing and learn about the business side of restaurant operations.
He then found families interested in the opportunity, and they went to work cleaning a former restaurant in preparation. The landlord gave them several months to establish themselves without charging them rent.
On a wing and a prayer, they opened in May to an enthusiastic response, both from the local community and the large community of Afghans in the area.
With a focus on authentic Afghan food, My Kabul also offers several dishes common to Indian and Pakistani cuisine, including plenty of vegetarian options.
Sheeryakh, a type of Afghan ice cream found widely in Kabul but hard to come by locally, is now one of the more popular items at My Kabul. One Afghan woman who’d been in the U.S. for 45 years came from Northern Virginia when she heard about the restaurant, Noori said.
“She was in tears of happiness when she had the ice cream, not having tasted anything so authentic since she’d left the country decades back,” Noori said.
A community organizer by nature, Noori has been reaching out to the Prince George’s County Council and various organizations, hoping to gain support for refugee-focused gatherings.
On June 22, the county council and Patrons for Peace Project, a nonprofit that provides support to the homeless and underserved populations, sponsored a dinner. Three refugees spoke, along with representatives from city and community organizations.
“Agencies and organizations can help refugees to an extent, but ultimately people need to find their way to self-sufficiency,” Noori said. “By helping refugees connect with others, they can share their experiences, help each other get connected and acculturated, and support each other getting on their feet. What better way to do that than over a meal?”
My Kabul restaurant is at 13919 Baltimore Avenue; for more information, including a menu and hours, go to mykabul.us.