‘I’m the chef now’: Afro Deli owner Abdirahman Kahin has been named Minnesota’s Small Business Owner of the Year

By Alfonzo Galvan, Sahan Journal

This story comes from the Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing authentic news about Minnesota’s new immigrants and refugees. MPR News is a partner of Sahan Journal and will share stories SahanJournal.com and MPRNews.org.

Abdirahman Kahin wasn’t a chef in 2010 – he was just a man with an idea. That idea eventually led to his being named Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year for 2023 last week.

“I was very happy and still cherish this moment,” said Abdirhaman, CEO and owner of Afro Deli and Grill. “And I think someone deserved it, and that happened to be me.”

His small restaurant empire, Afro Deli, began as Abdirhaman’s desire to fill a gap in the Twin Cities’ food scene. He wanted to share the taste of Africa. And he began in 2010 by opening the restaurant’s first location in Minneapolis’ Cedar Riverside neighborhood.

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“The representation of the food scene was, you know, very thin,” Abdirhaman said. “So I saw an opportunity, even though I’m not a chef, but I had this idea.”

“Afro Deli and Grill is a fusion restaurant that weaves business, community and culture, offering freshly prepared African, Mediterranean and American fare in a fast, fun and friendly environment,” according to a press release from the US Small Business Administration ( SBA) the announcement of the recognition of Abdirahman. “Abdirahman believes that food knows no borders but has the power to bring people together in meaningful ways.”

Afro Deli owner Abdirahman Kahin works at one of his restaurants on Friday.

Alfonzo Galvan | Sahan Journal

Afro Deli and Grill has four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul and offers Somali steak sandwiches, chicken curry and gyros, among other things. They also have Grab N’ Go options at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

“Minnesota is home to wonderful, resilient small businesses that are anchoring our communities. Leading the way this year is Afro Deli & Grill, a fast-casual restaurant founded by Abdirahman Kahin,” said Brian McDonald, director of the Minnesota District of the Small Business Administration. “Kahin’s unique business concept coupled with the support of the SBA and his dedication reflect great recognition for his business and have resulted in impressive growth that enables him to reinvest in the local community.”

While the honor highlighted Abdirahman, he said it is shared equally with everyone who is part of Afro Deli. He hopes the company can use the award to expand and create more jobs.

“Our food is no different from the most successful restaurants, so creating more jobs is my hobby,” Abdirahman said.

The business is looking to expand statewide and eventually nationwide, he said, adding he wants Afro Deli to become the first national African restaurant chain in the United States.

Abdirahman said the key to his company’s success is not its focus on the economy but on the social aspect of the business. He emphasizes giving back to the community in a variety of ways, including partnering with nonprofits to feed those in need during COVID.

Another goal was to create a positive atmosphere for employees. Abdirahman said he is focused on retaining employees.

“We make sure that people not only come to work, but also have fun at it,” he said.

An entrepreneur runs a register.

Afro Deli owner Abdirahman Kahin, who was named the 2023 Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year, works at the checkout counter at one of his restaurants.

Alfonzo Galvan | Sahan Journal

And like any successful business owner, Abdirahman never stops working. He continues to work the cash register at Afro Deli’s Stadium Village, wiping down tables during the lunch hour on one of the latter afternoons.

“I’m the chef now,” Abdirahman joked to his staff as he grabbed a tray of freshly cooked chicken breasts.

Taking place the first week of May, National Small Business Week 2023 is a national multi-day virtual event open to all. The conference will feature numerous educational panels recognizing national award winners and nominating this year’s National Small Business Owner of the Year.

The winner of each federal state is in the race for the federal prize. Abdirahman said he plans to attend the event and hopes to take the national award home to Minnesota.

“It’s an area I’ve never dealt with before,” he said. “But I’m very excited because if we do that in Minnesota, which you know is a big state, I think we have a chance to win that.”


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