Their American dream disappears
Abdi Noor fled Somalia during a tribal war, hoping to realize his American dream.
For 15 years he worked long hours as a taxi driver with his sights on owning a restaurant. He knew famine — eating bland maize pancakes day after day — so when he and two friends created the Kin restaurant, they served heaping plates of savory meals with generous quantities of meats and vegetables.
Two doors down from Kin in the Parker Point shopping center, near the intersection of East Mississippi Avenue and South Parker Road in Arapahoe County, was the All American Pawn Shop. The owner’s ties to a jewelry theft ring run by members of a street gang called the Kings of Denver led to nearly two dozen arrests — including his own.
So when the landlord sent an eviction notice, Noor and his partners were shocked to learn that it was their restaurant and not the pawn shop that had been targeted.
The perplexing turn of events, Kin’s owners say, boiled down
to race and religion. It didn’t matter that Noor, Hodan Amin and Mohamed Sufi always made their lease payments on time. All that really mattered was that they are black and Muslim, and the pawn shop owner was white, they claim.
Amin, Noor and Sufi recently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Denver U.S. District Court against the Loup Management Co. and property manager Shelly Haynes, and Parker Point LLC. They are seeking unspecified compensatory damages.
Loup representatives did not return calls for comment, and Haynes said Monday that “since this is ongoing litigation, I’m not allowed to comment.”
Several units vacant
While repeatedly turning away prospective Somali business tenants, Loup owners have found it difficult to lease retail spaces to anyone, the lawsuit says. Several units have been vacant for years.
Noor, 40, left Somalia to flee famine and a war that claimed his father’s life. The refugee stayed in Kenya before moving to the U.S. in 1999. For many years he saved money he made working for a carpet company and driving a taxi as many as 24 hours straight. Sufi immigrated from Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in 1997 amid an ethnic war. He drove a taxi for Metro Taxi.
“Half my life I’ve been driving a cab,” Noor said. “I wanted to open a business and live the American dream.”
In 2013, Noor joined forces with Sufi and his wife, Amin. They discovered a restaurant space at 7950 E. Mississippi Ave. that was an ideal spot from which to serve their spicy, ethnic food. Neighborhoods in the vicinity have the largest population of East African refugees in the Denver metro area. It was near the Somali American Community Center of Colorado, 1582 S. Parker Road, and Colorado Muslim Society at 2071 S. Parker Road.
In August 2013, Loup allowed Kin to take over a restaurant lease held by Muktar Buni, even though Haynes had told Buni that the company no longer planned to lease to Somalis, the lawsuit says.
Kin’s owners marketed the restaurant to their community of cab drivers, who often called ahead to pick up their food during 15- to 20-minute breaks. For cabbies, time is money.
Noor said he and his partners arrived at Kin at 3:30 a.m. each day and worked late offering bargain-priced plates of halal food prepared according to Islamic dietary rules. It was very hard work, but Noor and Amin didn’t mind. They were building clientele.
Noor said his identity more and more was defined by his business ownership.
The idea of providing rich, delicious lamb, chick- en and beef dishes after growing up in a nation rife with famine where children died of malnutrition was deeply meaningful to him. His wife, Fatima, said people subsisted on a single maize meal a day if they had any food at all.
“People liked the food. It was fresh every day. We opened at 6 a.m. and stayed open through the night shift. We had a good business,” Noor said. “It was always busy. My business was my dream come true. I knew my life was going to change. I was going to be successful.”
Haynes soon wrote a letter to Kin complaining that its patrons often loitered in the parking lot and harassed customers of other businesses in the strip mall, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, Haynes made a “false” report to the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office in January 2016. During a conversation with the responding deputy, she said she did not want to renew Kin’s lease because of ongoing “shenanigans.”
In April 2016, she complained that Kin’s patrons triggered criminal reports, loitered in front of the restaurant and were very loud and disrespectful of neighboring businesses. Their customers fought, dumped trash, tried to sell stolen goods, intimidated patrons of other businesses, often parked in spaces for the other businesses.
The smell of marijuana smoke often wafted from that part of the strip mall, she complained.
But Haynes failed to cite any specific facts or incidents, the lawsuit says. Loup ordered Kin owners to vacate by November. When Kin hired an attorney, Loup agreed to renew the lease only under the condition that no more than three taxi cabs could park in the Parker Point lot at one time.
If she had wanted to find specific bad behavior of neighboring businesses, Haynes could have done so by looking at the public records of law enforcement, according to the plaintiffs.
History of run-ins
Abraham Mizrachi, 65, and 27 members of a theft ring that stole $400,000 from 50 Denver metro homes were indicted by a Denver grand jury on numerous charges on May 16, 2016, including theft and racketeering, the indictment documents say. The stolen items were valued between $100,000 and $1 million, records say.
Theft charges against Mizrachi were pending when he died on Sept. 14. Members of the local theft ring “on a regular basis” sold gold, jewelry, designer watches to All American, according to the indictment.
While Loup had claimed it was Kin’s patrons getting arrested, Haynes “made no effort to determine whether the complaints relating to loitering, thefts and intimidation by certain ‘groups’ were actually All American’s clients,” the civil rights lawsuit says.
The crime syndicate running through All American’s doors flourished between 2013 and May 11, 2016 — about the same period Kin was operating in the shopping center, according to court records. Haynes’ report to the sheriff’s office had been the only police report filed against Kin despite her reference to frequent police activity, the lawsuit says.
Haynes’ reference to badbehaving taxi cab drivers was merely a euphemism for Kin’s Muslim, East African patrons even though the taxi drivers are hardworking, law-abiding residents who must pass criminal background checks, the lawsuit says.
Haynes even turned complaints that Kin’s owners made about fighting and pot smoking in front of Wise Guys against the restaurant, claiming those same reports had been made against Kin patrons.
Other East Africans were denied lease renewals or told they weren’t welcome in the shopping center, the lawsuit says.
Idris Yousuf, the former owner of the Kiffah Cafe at the same shopping center, said Haynes also refused to renew his lease after telling him, “We don’t want you guys here anymore.” When Buni introduced a Somali friend who was interested in leasing a vacant unit in the shopping center to Haynes, she allegedly told the man Loup wasn’t leasing to any more Somalis because they were “violent” people and the taxi drivers took up too many spaces, the lawsuit says.
Another hopeful renter, Abdirazak Mohamed, said Loup stopped corresponding with him after he revealed he was originally from Somalia. When Abdirazak Mohamed’s brother later called Jason Kinsey, a real estate broker representing Loup, to say he was interested in leasing a unit at the shopping center, Kinsey allegedly told him Loup did not want to deal with more taxi cab “problems.”
Kin’s lease at Parker Point was not renewed in March. Noor and Sufi have returned to driving cabs.
“It was pretty bad. I lost a lot of money,” Noor said.
Fatima Noor said her husband couldn’t sleep. They could no longer send money to relatives still living in Somalia to help them survive. He was traumatized and felt stress. “It not only affected him. It affected us.”
Amin said owning and running a restaurant meant a lot to her husband. “He was the one providing for his own family.” Now he’s driving for Uber, she said.
“We’re starting from square one,” Noor said.
“People liked the food. It was fresh every day. We opened at 6 a.m. and stayed open through the night shift. We had a good business.” Abdi Noor
Somalis Abdi Noor and his wife, Fatima, say their Denver-area restaurant’s eviction is discrimination.