East African Refugees Opening Restaurant in Detroit

“Everything was reborn in Detroit for us,” says refugee Hamissi Mamba, who is opening an East African restaurant in New Center.

Jake Neher/WDET

This week has brought a flurry of conversation regarding immigration. Specifically, who deserves to be in America and why?

A few years ago, a refugee couple from Burundi overcame hardship and adversity in the process of seeking asylum in America by way of Detroit. Now, they are preparing to open an East African cuisine restaurant in New Center called Baobab Fare.

The restaurant will infuse different flavors and stories into an area of Detroit that’s changing and growing. Baobab Fare will also be staffed by fellow refugees from Africa.

Detroit Today host Stephen Henderson speaks with the restaurant’s co-owner, Hamissi Mamba, about the challenge of acquiring asylum in America.

“You think that when you come here you are going to be secure and you are going to have asylum,” says Mamba. “But this is a contradiction because for our case…we had been waiting for four years and a half. I think asylum is a right, and if it is not a right in the United States, where are we going to go to seek asylum?”

“People don’t maybe talk about how many people flee the United States to cross the border and go to Canada because you didn’t get asylum for a long time. Some people don’t understand that people flee the United States. That is a contradiction.”

Mamba also talks about their hopes to educate the community about different African cultures and prove that refugees can make positive contributions to our city and country.

Henderson also speaks with Mark Kurlyanchik, the food writer for the Detroit Free Press, about how the growing community of food trucks and pop-up restaurants are bringing a “downtown dining renaissance” to Detroit.

“Any given night you can go and try great Indonesian fare and great Filipino fare,” says Kurlyanchik. “It has really lowered the barriers of entry and kind of helped other cuisines to really thrive in Detroit.”

Overall, Kurlyanchik believes that this exposure to different types of food will allow us to become better stewards of what we eat and members of our community.

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


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