SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah prepares to welcome more than 750 Afghan refugees in the coming months, one Salt Lake City business owner knows the challenges in store, firsthand.
Those who step inside Afghan Kitchen on State Street for a lamb shank Qabili Palau or pumpkin dumplings will meet Wali Arshad.
He loves to share his culture through delicious dishes made with Afghan spices.
"Whenever a customer comes here, they leave happy and joyful, and that gives me a lot of satisfaction," Arshad said.
Many who stop in may not know how Arshad came to share a piece of his home country in Utah. The work Arshad did in Kabul had nothing to do with serving up his favorite meals.
"I used to work for United Nations, and our life was in danger," he shared. "My life and my family’s life, and their safety was 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 some family here.
"We started everything from scratch," Arshad explained.
They had to find work and a place to live. Arshad had to begin his career completely over.
"It was very scary and depressing," he remembered. "I’ve been depressed for at least a month or two, trying to find out what to do."
Hearing now that more than 750 Afghan refugees are embarking on the same journey, who Arshad understands are mostly educated and worked for the US government or for US businesses, he knows it won't be easy to adjust.
"It’s going to be very challenging for them to start their life here," he said. "I want everyone here in Utah to be kind to them, supportive and help them since they’ve been through a lot difficulties."
Utah has been kind to Arshad.
Seeing no Afghan restaurants in Utah, Arshad decided to open Afghan Kitchen at 3142 S Main Street in 2016, and share that love for his food and culture with Utah. It became so popular, that he recently expanded to the second location at 1465 S State Street.
People have been reaching out with all the recent events to support Arshad and his restaurants.
"I received a lot of emails, calls, and text messages offering to help and support in this difficult time," he said.
Arshad expressed that he's thankful, and hopeful that the Afghan refugees arriving will have reason to be thankful for support, too.
He knows it'll be crucial as hundreds of people now look to Utah for safety, just like Arshad's family did seven years ago.
"This is a land of opportunity, and the sky is the limit," Arshad said. "So, you can achieve whatever you are aiming at."