Abdirahman Kahin wasn’t a chef in 2010—he was just a man with an idea. That idea eventually led to him being named last week as Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year for 2023.
“I was very happy and I’m still enjoying that moment,” said Abdirahman, CEO and owner of Afro Deli and Grill. “And I think someone deserved it, and it just happened to be me.”
His small restaurant empire, Afro Deli, started off as Abdirahman’s desire to fill a gap in the Twin Cities food scene. He wanted to share the tastes of Africa. And he got his start in 2010 with the opening of the restaurant’s first location in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
“The food scene representation was, you know, very slim,” Abdirahman said. “So, I saw an opportunity even though I’m not a chef, but I had that idea.”
“Afro Deli and Grill is a fusion restaurant that weaves together business, community, and culture that offers freshly made African, Mediterranean, and American food in a fast, fun, and friendly environment,” said a news release from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announcing Abdirahman’s recognition. “Abdirahman believes food has no borders but has the power to convene people in meaningful ways.”
Afro Deli and Grill has four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul offering Somali steak sandwiches, chicken curry, and gyros, among other foods. They also have “Grab N’ Go” options at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“Minnesota is home to wonderful resilient small businesses who anchor our communities. Rising to the top this year is Afro Deli & Grill, a fast-casual restaurant founded by Abdirahman Kahin,” said Brian McDonald, director of the Small Business Administration’s Minnesota District. “Kahin’s unique business concept coupled with the support of the SBA and his dedication reflects great credit on his business and has led to impressive growth to allow him to invest back into the local community.”
While the honor singled out Abdirahman, he said it’s shared equally with everybody that’s a part of Afro Deli. He hopes the business can leverage the award into expanding and creating more jobs.
“Our food is no different than, you know, most successful restaurants, so my hobby is to create more jobs,” Abdirahman said.
The business is looking to expand across the state and eventually the country, he said, adding that he wants Afro Deli to become the first national African restaurant chain in the United States.
Abdirahman said the key to his business’ success is not focusing on the economics, but rather, the social aspect of the business. He prioritizes giving back to the community through various avenues, including partnering with nonprofits to feed those in need during COVID.
Another goal has been creating a positive atmosphere for employees. It’s something Abdirahman said he focuses on in order to help retain staff.
“We make sure that people are not only coming to work, but they have to enjoy it,” he said.
And just like any successful business owner, Abdirahman doesn’t stop working. He continues working the register at Afro Deli’s Stadium Village location, wiping off tables during the lunch rush on a recent afternoon.
“I’m the chef now,” Abdirahman joked to his employees as he grabbed a tray of freshly cooked chicken breasts.
National Small Business Week 2023 is taking place the first week of May and is a national multi-day virtual event open to all. The conference will feature numerous educational panels, recognize the national award winners, and name this year’s National Small Business Person of the Year.
Each state’s winner is in the running for the national award. Abdirahman said he’s planning to attend the event, and hopes to take the national award back home to Minnesota.
“It’s a ground that I’ve never been into,” he said. “But I’m very excited, because if we did this in Minnesota, which you know, is a large state, I think we have a chance to win that.”