An American Thanksgiving With Afghani Hospitality
LOGAN, Utah – Restaurateur Saboor Sahely gives thanks in a big way – with a free Thanksgiving dinner for about 1,000 people. It’s a gesture of gratitude for all that’s happened in the past 30 years.
“I literally have to get up every day and thank God,” said Sahely.
In 1978, Sahely came to Logan to go to school. He’d traveled from a war zone. His home country of Afghanistan was embroiled in the Saur Revolution, the beginning of what would be 30 years of almost uninterrupted conflict in that country.
He says he was scared and broke when he arrived in Utah. He was trained to work in mining but took a job washing dishes at a restaurant on Main Street and never left the restaurant business.
Over the years, he worked his way up to management in the chain and when that original restaurant went out of business, Sahely bought it and named it after his daughter, Angie, who was then 2 years old.
At first, he and his wife Kristine, whom he met when she was waiting tables at the restaurant, struggled financially.
“The first year when I opened I never took a day off,” said Sahely. “Came to work at 5:00, 6:00 in the morning, stayed here until 10 o’clock at night trying to a make a living,” he said.
Eventually, Angie’s found its place in the community and then financial success.
Sahely, at first considered a foreigner, has now become a fixture in the community. In 2016, the Logan Herald named Sahely their “resident of the year.”
And he considers his regular customers family.
That was evident on a recent morning. As the early lunch crowd filters into the restaurant, Sahely works the room, greeting customers more often than not by their first names.
“Hey Tony, how are you bro?” said Sahely, greeting one customer.
“Hi Bonnie, hi Boyd, how’s it going?” he greeted others.
Signs outside the restaurant read “Where the locals eat” and customers agree that’s more than a made-up slogan.
“No, the locals do eat here,” says Pat Gantt, a retired English professor at Utah State University.
“We have a customer base, they eat here three times a day, seven days a week,” Sahely said.
If a regular customer fails to show up, Sahely says an Angie’s employee will take a bowl of soup and knock on their door.
Gantt, a widow, says she eats here every day, sometimes twice a day.
“I literally fell in love with a community and fell in love with a customer base,” said Sahely.
Perhaps his warmth and generosity came with his Afghani roots.
“Maybe coming from a culture, from a place that hospitality was such a big deal,” he said. “When people walk through your door, to your home, you treat them like a king and queen.”
“People who walk through the door of my restaurant are basically walking into my home,” he continued. “They come into my home and you have to treat them with honor and respect and dignity.”
When he arrived in Logan 30 years ago, Sahely had never heard of a holiday devoted to turkey and gratitude. A customer who was a janitor at Utah State University invited him home for Thanksgiving – an act of kindness Sahely never forgot.
“I told my wife, ‘Someday when we can afford it, we’re going to open our doors on Thanksgiving Day and basically offer a free meal,’” he said, and that’s what Angie’s began doing in 1990, inviting everyone to have turkey and fixings on the house.
Now they serve more than a thousand people each year. Some, he says, aren’t comfortable accepting free meals, so Sahely uses the event to raise money for charity.
This year they’re soliciting donations for for the Little Lambs Foundation which helps foster kids and struggling families.
“As a business we have a moral obligation and a civic responsibility to give back to the community,” he said.
Sahely says he has a lot to be thankful for this holiday.
“I’m thankful to be able to live in a place that has inspired me to do great things. I’m thankful for living in this wonderful community,” he said. “I’m thankful for a wonderful wife and five beautiful kids and two grandkids and I’m thankful to be able to have a business and the doors are still open and to be able to make an honest living.”
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