Minnesota businessman wins national award

…After avoiding an early brush with the Feeding Our Future scandal.

In some rare good news for the economy of Minneapolis and St. Paul, local entrepreneur Abdirahman Kahin won the National Small Business Person of the Year award. Kahin is the founder and owner of the Afro Deli & Grill, with four locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The award is given out each year by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Fox Business reports that Kahin’s success is attributable to some nimble adaptation during the COVID years. Afro Deli moved beyond the brick and mortar model at its four dine-in locations.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the restaurant to close and change to grab-and-go products, according to a news release from the Small Business Administration.

Afro Deli & Grill now supplies eight stores in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport and 15 other stores across the Twin Cities area, and has expanded to four locations. The business also partners with Meals on Wheels and Minnesota Central Kitchen to provide home-delivered meals to vulnerable community members.

It could have gone in a much different direction.

Kahin and Afro Deli made a cameo appearance in the lawsuit filed by the now-closed nonprofit Feeding Our Future against the state Department of Education (MDE). Feeding Our Future complained about MDE’s refusal to process its applications for new distribution sites in the early days of the pandemic. Quoting from page 11, paragraph 42 of the lawsuit,

Each of the sites is an upstanding business with deep connections to the
community. For example, Abdirahman Kahin, the owner of Afro Deli, was invited by
President Obama to attend his final State of the Union address. In his speech, President
Obama commended Mr. Kahin for his dedication to the community, creation of jobs, and contribution to the economy.

Indeed, Afro Deli was one of eight locations proposed by Feeding Our Future for new food sites in April 2020, but rejected by MDE.

All eight were eventually approved by MDE. Afro Deli does not appear in any MDE databases as having gone through with participating in the program. However, of the other seven locations in that batch, five are associated with figures later indicted in the case.

Afro Deli escaped that fate and undertook their own, independent free-food effort. As the Sahan Journal reported back in March 2020,

Despite the [pandemic] difficulties, Abdirahman said he knows so many others from his community are in tougher predicaments, and he’s using Afro Deli to help out where he can. 

On Tuesday afternoon, he and a half-dozen volunteers distributed around 200 free meals to two south Minneapolis apartment complexes where most tenants are East African immigrants. The meals went to elderly and disabled residents who Abdirahman and the volunteers said needed support during the outbreak the most.

“We saw the need,” Abdirahman said. “The crisis is going to be very severe, and we have always been involved in our community. We knew what was going on in our community, so it was an easy decision.”

It would appear that Feeding Our Future traded on the good name of Kahin and Afro Deli to curry favor with the Department and the Court as they pursued their (alleged) scheme.

We previously ran a series (“Collateral Damage“) on the many legitimate nonprofits and businesses who were caught up in the scandal and suffered as a result of their association.

In Afro Deli, we have an example of a business who went in a different direction and thrived.