Yassin Terou fled Syria with a suitcase and a few hundred dollars. He knew no one in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he spoke no English, but he went there to rebuild his life and pursue his dream of perfect falafel anyway.
Every business starts with a dream, and Square exists to serve them—every kind of dream. “Yassin Falafel” is our first short film chronicling our remarkable sellers and their tireless pursuit of their dreams.
YASSIN: This last year has been hard on me and my family. Sometimes I don’t sleep. When you see all that is going on in the media, it will make you afraid.It’s like, what will happen to us? Even, like, make me scared about my business. It’s like, are we still welcome here? But when my baby was born, I remember looking at her. She’s born here. She’s an American. So at that moment—that moment I decide to be strong.
In 2011, when things got worse in Syria, and I just have to leave. Like, maybe the thing will get better, and I will go back—but this never happened. The first time I came to Knoxville, I still remember that day. Driving around from the highway, a lot of, like, big cars. I was scared of almost everything.
A lot of my Arabic friends, they scared to come here, like, “Oh, they hate Muslims.” “You will not have a good life in America.” You come to a country and you don’t have nothing. Nothing. Zero. You can’t make money because I wasn’t allowed to work. I don’t speak English. You don’t know nobody. Refugee life is very hard. Where do you start? Like you start with people, maybe they speak the same language.
So I went to the mosque. It was, like, about 4 minutes walking. And that took me like 2 months to know where it’s at, ’Cause I don’t know GPS. I never work with the GPS in Syria. I asked them for work, and they told me like, unfortunately, they can’t offer a lot of jobs, but we can offer you food, monthly help. And that was hard for me. It’s like, I can’t do it. Can you let me just sell sandwiches here? My small dream was to sell falafel and juices like we have it in Syria. This my food. And I want to give it with my love, with my style. And they let me do it. So I wasn’t making much money, but I was happy doing something.
NADEEM: I met Yassin here at the mosque, and this guy for a year or two years just consistently would come and sell these sandwiches. A lot of people would line up after the prayers got out.So I tried out his sandwich and it was really some of the best I’ve ever had. So I asked him, I was like, “Why don’t you just open up a store?”
YASSIN: Because I don’t have money! It’s the only reason I’m not doing this. It’s like my credit was, even if I claim everything, the best credit line I was given was $300.
NADEEM: So we decided to team up and we found an empty spot in an a building downtown, and opened up Yassin’s Falafel House.
YASSIN: The feeling of having like a restaurant, a real restaurant—so when I see it now I still don’t believe it. It’s not an easy job. Sometimes you have a very hard day, a 12-hour shift, catering in the morning, you’ll get tired. But having a business will give you the chance to represent yourself. It’s not only work. It’s a message.
My customers, they are my friends. Different faiths, different colors, different race. Because this is what Yassin’s Falafel House is about. It’s about community. Whatever happens outside of this store, just forget about it and come in. You are safe here. We hire refugees. Who are just like me. Who come here with nothing. People who want to work, and want to be happy.
The situation in Syria destroyed our family. My brother is in another country, I’m here, my father’s with my sisters. It’s not easy. It’s like, what will happen to them? Their future? It’s hard for me.
SERMON: A lot of people that you know and you don’t know have contributed to what makes you. And for that, we ought to be grateful. Everybody is great at a time of ease. Everybody wants to show the best of them at a time of prosperity. But it is at the time of adversity, at the times when things are not going your way, is when we really realize what that gratitude of yours, what that gratitude of mine, is made of.
YASSIN: I’m very grateful to be here. I’m very grateful for my family. And, we are strong together. I just think back about where I was, and what if I was still in Syria.
Not many people know my last name. A lot of people are like, “Yassin Falafel.” And I’m not mad about it. If they remember me of the good food and good taste, I’m really happy with it, like, it’s okay.
One of my dreams is not having one store only. One of my dreams is to get our message everywhere. Even the people who decide, oh, they don’t like Muslims, they don’t like refugees, they don’t like immigrants, we have to change their ideas about it. And that’s our job and that’s our message. If you believe in something, you don’t have to leave it and just go. I say, “No.” We’re going to keep the American dream going because this country is for everybody.