SALT LAKE CITY – As Utah prepares to welcome more than 750 Afghan refugees in the coming months, a business owner in Salt Lake City knows firsthand the challenges ahead.
Those who come inside Afghan cuisine on State Street for a Qabili Palau lamb shank or pumpkin dumplings will meet Wali Arshad.
He likes to share his culture through delicious dishes made with Afghan spices.
“Every time a customer comes here, they leave happy and happy, and that gives me a lot of satisfaction,” said Arshad.
Many who stop by may not be aware of how Arshad came to share a piece of his native Utah. Arshad’s job in Kabul had nothing to do with serving his favorite foods.
“I was working for the United Nations and our life was in danger,” he explained. “My life and that of my family, and their safety, were in danger.”
In 2014, Arshad, his wife Mariam, and their children left Kabul to seek safety in Salt Lake City. He said they chose Utah because the landscape is similar to Kabul and they had family here.
“We started everything from scratch,” Arshad explained.
They had to find work and a place to live. Arshad had to start his career all over again.
“It was very scary and depressing,” he recalls. “I’ve been depressed for at least a month or two, trying to figure out what to do.”
Read – More than 750 Afghan refugees expected to resettle in Utah in the coming months
Hearing now that more than 750 Afghan refugees are embarking on the same journey, who Arshad says are mostly educated and have worked for the US government or for US companies, he knows it won’t be easy to s ‘adapt.
“It’s going to be very difficult for them to start their life here,” he said. “I want everyone here in Utah to be kind to them, support them and help them since they’ve been through a lot of hardship.”
Utah has been kind to Arshad.
Seeing no Afghan restaurant in Utah, Arshad decided to open Afghan Kitchen at 3142 S Main Street in 2016, and share this love for its cuisine and culture with Utah. It has become so popular that it recently expanded to the second location at 1465 S State Street.
People have reached out with all recent events to support Arshad and its restaurants.
“I have received a lot of emails, calls and texts offering help and support during this difficult time,” he said.
Arshad expressed that he is grateful and that he hopes that the Afghan refugees who arrive will also have reason to be grateful for their support.
He knows this will be crucial as hundreds of people now look to Utah for protection, just as Arshad’s family did seven years ago.
“It’s a land of opportunity, and the sky is the limit,” Arshad said. “So you can achieve whatever you aim for.”