Abdirahman Kahin, the founder of Afro Deli and one of most successful East African restaurateurs in the Twin Cities, is back in business on the West Bank.
Kahin, 40, a Somali refugee 20-plus years ago, has joined with a Turkish-American partner as minority owner of Campus Café at Riverside and Cedar avenues.
“The West Bank customers of Afro Deli for years helped me grow on the West Bank,” Kahin said last week. “I always appreciated the support. And I’m glad to be back. This is a great place for good coffee and [mostly] Mediterranean food.”
Kahin, who started a small restaurant and catering service in southeast Minneapolis in 1996, was lured to the African Development Center (ADC) near Cedar-Riverside in 2010 by the late Hussein Samatar, the businessman and community leader who died in 2013.
Kahin several months ago settled a lawsuit he brought against the new management of ADC after it claimed a share of ownership in Afro Deli and raised the rent. Kahin said he received the unspecified sum of money he was owed. A new restaurant has opened in the ADC space.
Kahin, who opened a downtown St. Paul restaurant in 2015, also opened a small eatery in Stadium Village on the East Bank campus of the University of Minnesota last year after leaving ADC in 2016.
Kahin, who also has an East African catering business, long has vowed to return to the West Bank.
His partner is Mustafa Faruk Cingilli, a Turkish immigrant who arrived in the Twin Cities with his wife, Mesude, in 1996. She earned an MBA from the University of Minnesota, worked for two Twin Cities businesses and now is a vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Faruk Cingilli, 53, a banker by training, started out working as a dishwasher at a south Minneapolis diner.
He eventually started a one-truck business that developed into a multitruck local delivery business that served Federal Express over several years. He sold the trucking business last year.
Cingilli became friends with the owner of Mapps Coffee, Erdogan Akguc, another Turkish-American businessman.
Mapps vacated the Cedar-Riverside store last year to focus on expansion at the Mapps coffee shop at the Midtown Global Market.
“This is a community place,” Cingilli said of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and Campus Café. “People from everywhere. International. And I wanted to create a Turkish food experience.
“But I had no idea in this country how to run the restaurant.”
Kahin, who is a one-third owner of Campus Café, and Cingilli invested more than $300,000 in a stylish overhaul of the ground-floor space that is licensed to seat up to 60 customers.
It’s a modest-priced restaurant where customers walk to the counter and can see their meals being prepared. The offerings range from lamb shish kebab to lentil soup to a Turkish-style pizza, spiced meats, an assortment of vegetable concoctions, as well as American selections.
Campus Café employs a Turkish chef and a Somali chef.
No booze, but good coffee, tea and smoothies. Just like Mapps.
“I’ve always liked the West Bank,” said Kahin, who took business classes at the University of St. Thomas.
Kahin employs about 40 people and grossed more than $2 million in sales last year from his Afro Deli restaurants and catering operations in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
He has become a preferred caterer for parties and meetings at a lot of shops and offices.
His restaurants and menu offerings tilt East African, but his employees hail from Minnesota to Mexico.
“Working for Afro Deli, and meeting customers from all around the world, inspired some of the student employees to study abroad,” Kahin said. “Afro Deli was a good place for them to talk to people from Africa and the Middle East.”
The late Samatar would be pleased that the unhappy times between Kahin and the African Development Center are over.
Samatar, who arrived in the United States in the early ’90s, was educated in Somalia in economics. He studied English at the Franklin Library and bought a home for his young family on the near South Side.
A one-time Wells Fargo banker and school board member, Samatar also earned a University of St. Thomas MBA.
He started ADC as a business-and-housing developer and financial-education resource for African immigrants.
Samatar, who would be happy that Kahin is back in business on the West Bank, died of leukemia in 2013 at age 45.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at email@example.com.