Just outside of the main drag of Columbia City, a quaint, red brick Ethiopian restaurant hugs the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Juneau Street. The name of the restaurant is Deen, not to be confused with its previous name Dini. The restaurant serves Mediterranean and east African food and is owned by a man named Ismail Ibrahim.
Ismail is a refugee from Eritrea. He was forced to leave his country after war broke out between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 1998. He spent the next ten years living in transit in both Sudan and Malta before finally being resettled through the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to the Seattle area in May of 2018. Despite his multiple moves, his passion for working in restaurants is something he has consistently prioritized. He was able to find jobs in Sudan and Malta in restaurants and has done everything from kitchen work, to taking orders to bussing tables and cleaning.
When he arrived in Seattle a friend of his suggested they look into opening a restaurant together. Ismail had always dreamed of owning his own business but wasn’t convinced it would be possible. “The hardest part about opening a business is the financial part of it,” he said. “Also, I was brand new in Seattle and I knew I would struggle a bit when I first started, but to overcome you need to stand up first.”
Ismail and his friend came to the Refugee Resettlement Office looking for financial assistance to open their business and found it through the New Roots Loan Program. The program is funded by the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and offers refugees and asylees living in the United States the chance to start or manage their small business. With the help of the loan program, they were able to open shop almost immediately.
So far, the business is doing great. Ismail plans to announce the new management of the building to the community and hold a grand opening this fall. He also hopes to continue to grow his business so that he can employ a full staff. “Your dreams have no limits here,” he says.