Black-owned restaurant helps connect African Americans to cultural roots

Black-owned restaurant helps connect African Americans to cultural roots
Published: Jun. 19, 2023 at 7:41 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 19, 2023 at 7:50 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Alafia: West African Cuisine opened 9 years ago, and chef and owner, Ismael Lawani, has been keeping the restaurant going ever since.

“When I stepped in, I realized I had too much to do,” he laughed.

Originally from Benin on the West African Coast, Lawani moved to Arizona in 2006. When he saw there were no restaurants serving West African food, he rolled up his sleeves and decided to open his own restaurant.

But when people started dining at Alafia, they didn’t know what to expect.

“The first thing they have in their mind, like when you say African food, they think it’s going to be spicy and so hot,” Lawani said. “A lot of people are reserved.”

It isn’t until they take a bite of their meal that satisfaction kicks in.

One thing Lawani enjoys doing though is sharing West African Cuisine with Black Americans in the community. Because of slavery, many people’s histories and roots were erased.

But Lawani loves to share traditional African meals with diners and teach them a little bit about l the West African Coast.

“I see African Americans come to the restaurant and they want to try the food to know more about African culture,” he said.

While Lawani recognizes Juneteenth, he says there should be a bigger celebration for black achievements. He says if slavery didn’t exist, Africa would be presented in a more positive light than it is today.

Every day, however, through a rich bowl of goat curry and fufu, Lawani is happy to share a bit of home.

“But it makes me happy, because, you know, it’s good to serve food from traditions back home for people to enjoy.”

To learn more about black owned businesses in Tucson, click here.

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