Yahya Noor, immigrant and former refugee with roots tied to Somalia and Kenya, shared his mission on Oct. 18 about spreading his Somali culture through Boston by way of food as a James Beard Award semifinalist.

“I've seen a sign that says, ‘come in as a customer and leave as a friend,’” said Noor at WBUR CitySpace. “But with our space, you come in as a friend and leave as a family. That's more important for us than anything else.”

According to Noor, his restaurant is not just about creating family or community–it's about preserving it. At Tawakal Halal Cafe in Boston, Noor claims to carry on the tradition of his childhood and his heritage. He recreates the dishes his mother made for him and his six sisters as refugees in Somalia.

“This is the food we had, that my mom raised us to eat every day,” explained Noor, smiling with pride for his past.

Noor has the influence of a go-getter. He explained that his mother would always do what she could to bring home extra food for her family living on rations. She sat in the audience celebrating her son’s success.

Along with his mother, Noor’s eldest son and four of his sisters sat with wide eyes, watching him as he passed along the gift of their culture to the audience. That gift was wholeheartedly accepted—the audience sat mesmerized as he demonstrated how to make his Sambusa.

On a big screen plastered behind him, Noor kneaded Sambusa dough just as he would when going into work every day. According to Noor, nothing served was frozen. Everything was made fresh.

Somali food, as described by Noor, is a “fusion of all cultures.” With inspiration from India, Italy and the Middle East, this cuisine is undoubtedly diverse. It incorporates the practices of Halal, which Noor said refers to the practice of cooking with hand-slaughtered meat rather than machine-slaughtered.

In all of his success, Noor said that money is not the prize. After two locations and a James Beard Award Nomination, Noor maintained humility, remembering his goal in bringing Somali food to the forefront in the industry.

“We tend to put ourselves in a box, not realizing what other people are going through,” said Noor. “Sometimes it is important to always take a step back and realize where we come from, a refugee camp… it really shaped us in a way of who we are.”

Following the event, Frances commented on Noor’s resilience, noting his optimism despite a challenging upbringing. Frances commended his ability to turn a story of hardship to success, creating something bigger than himself.

According to Noor, community has always been his purpose. Noor remains active in community engagement, volunteering at organizations such as Eastie Farm and Green Roots Chelsea within his community in East Boston. Additionally, Noor said he served 5000 meals a week through Commonwealth Kitchen during the pandemic, cooking and delivering meals for families in need.

From Kenya to Somalia to Boston, food has been a constant part of Noor’s life. It's his childhood, it's his success, it's his charity– and he will continue to share it all with the city of Boston.