Refugees opening East African restaurant in Detroit's New Center
DETROIT (WJBK) - A couple who left everything behind to escape torture in their homeland has made Detroit their new home -- and they're ready to give back and share a big part of the life they left behind.
Nadia Hamisi was forced to flee Burundi five years ago. There, she had worked with orphaned children at a nonprofit but came under attack. Tortured, she ran for her life and found herself far from her husband and pregnant with twins at Freedom House Detroit. Freedom House is a temporary home for survivors of persecution from around the world who are seeking asylum in the United States and Canada.
"Everybody in this house who seeks asylum, every one of them had to flee," says Deb Drennan, the executive director at Freedom House Detroit.
Nadia lived there for more than two years while she sought asylum, hoping her husband, Mamba, would be able to join her and their children. Finally, he did.
"Housing them together, their life together, and when they were granted asylum -- that just meant the world," Drennan says.
"I was there for two years, two months. My kids were born there. I didn't lose; I gained everything. I gained a lot," says Nadia. "We have a lot to give to Detroit."
Unable to legally work while seeking asylum, they took classes and learned as much as they could and came out of Freedom House with a plan: open an East African restaurant that gives other refugees, immigrants and minorities a job. They came up with Baobab Fare, a restaurant that will introduce Detroit to coffee and cuisine from their homeland.
"Everyone who wants to learn something about our cuisine, our food, our culture -- the door is open," Mamba Hamisi says.
Their pop-up restaurants and catering events have already been a huge success, and they've won awards through Hatched and Motor City Match. By the end of the year they'll be at Woodward Avenue and East Grand Boulevard.
"Whoever came, the next people were coming with three people saying, 'Wow, this food is so good! When are you opening?'" Nadia says. And they're opening soon, but it's still not soon enough for the couple.
"Detroit gave me everything. They give me shelter; they give me kids; they bring my husband; they give my asylum. They give me everything [sic]," Nadia says. "So now it's my turn to give back."
"We couldn't imagine that one day we're going to realize a project like this one," Mamba says.
"It's a dream becoming true," Nadia adds.
So, why the name Baobab Fare? Mamba says the Baobab is an important tree in Africa that survives in the desert without a lot of water and still bears fruit, reminding them much of their new life here in Detroit.