The NoGarlicNoOnions Mission marches on in the USA: A Journey that will leave you in Tears by Houda Harb, Sydney, Australia
I’m here to tell you about a remarkable man. Someone who has eaten at more Lebanese restaurants than any other person, met more restaurant owners than anyone and traveled to more places around the world to meet the Lebanese Diaspora than anyone else has. Who am I talking about? It’s Lebanon’s Anthony Rahayel of NoGarlicNoOnions of course.
Now, picture this for a moment. You’re walking along a street in downtown Dearborn, a city in the US state of Michigan having a population of approximately 110,000 with the highest concentration of Arabs of any other US city when a car suddenly drives past and the driver yells out excitedly to you “Habibi, we love you, welcome to the US”. No less than five minutes later, you get stopped by a lovely family and they greet you with “Wow, it’s so great to see you, we love what you do and we have fallen in love with Lebanon all over again because of you.” After a cheerful exchange and some photos, you proceed along your way, only to run into more people around the corner eagerly walking towards you to greet you and hug you and invite you to their home for a meal and to stay. To say this would be heartwarming is a reasonably accurate description. But imagine this same scenario, different people, on repeat, every day, for a few hours each day, for a whole, entire month. That would not only be heart-warming but you’d be hugely overwhelmed by people’s love and their sincere show of support. This is exactly how Anthony has described his last month on tour in the USA visiting the Middle Eastern communities across the country.
Anthony has been accompanied by NoGarlicNoOnions Business Manager Rabih El Zein who has worked day and night both in the weeks leading up to the USA tour and during this whirlwind four weeks which has just seen Anthony and Rabih visit six US states and close to a dozen different cities around the country.
Anthony Rahayel’s USA tour is a continuation of the NGNO mission which has seen him travel all over the world to meet the Diaspora communities, showcase and celebrate their success stories on his YouTube channel and provide a platform for Lebanese expats to share not only their business successes since leaving their homeland, but also their hardships and the often difficult struggles they’ve faced along the way to get to this point. It’s a joy hearing these stories because they resonate with so many of us in the Diaspora. We all have a story to tell of how difficult living away from home is. The stories are also inspiring because you walk away from them with a great sense of confidence that success is possible for each and every one of us. David Ramzi Sunno, who was one of the many inspiring success stories we met in Orlando, Florida with Anthony and owner of International Food Club, put it best when he said “Success requires perseverance, a little bit of hope and that ‘never give up no matter what’ attitude to life.”
The NGNO mission is important because it’s also about reconnecting the Diaspora with their identity and roots. It’s a challenging mission but a noble one indeed. Challenging because if there’s one group of people out there who know what hopelessness feels like, it’s the Lebanese. Yet, inside the typical Lebanese person, you’ll inevitably find a flaming heart with a burning desire to achieve greatness. Owner of Orlando eatery Avalon Pockets, Hadi Akkawi, said it best when he shared his story with Anthony: “Where-ever there this is a successful achievement around the world, you will almost certainly find a Lebanese person responsible for that success.”
We have heard stories from great people all over the US, that conjure up a lot of emotion because they are honest and raw accounts of people’s journeys and how they have carried their homeland in their heart every step of the way. Owner of successful Orlando eatery Beirut Grill and Deli, Riad El Khatib, said when he shared his story with Anthony: “Whatever it is you do, when you do it with the objective of spreading love and doing good, that comes back to you in swathes. We are all ultimately ambassadors for our country and the most important thing we can do as fellow countrymen and women is to wish only the best for one another”.
To re-count every story which we have heard over these last few weeks would require many pages indeed. I shall focus on just a few here. In the meantime, i would not just encourage you, I would compel you to tune into Anthony Rahayel’s YouTube channel and watch these videos because they are not only highly enjoyable viewing, they’re essential viewing for you and your families, especially if you are from the Middle East.
Let me take you now, to where the USA trip started - “the windy city” - Chicago. It was in Chicago we met Nasr Khoneisser and the Libanais Restaurant family. An incredibly inspiring success story from Beirut to Chicago, and words of such wisdom from the wonderful owner who tells us what his father always told him which is to “Never let yesterday get into a battle with today otherwise you will lose tomorrow.” He shares a timely reminder of the importance of remaining positive and bouncing back from even the biggest losses or falls and learning the lessons each time while keeping the faith and fearing God. It’s the story of a great Lebanese institution and an important piece of our culinary history.
I’m compelled to give Dearborn another mention however. To say the success stories we encountered during the Michigan leg of the USA trip were impressive, is an understatement. Whether you look at the great success and honest approach of Al Ameer Restaurant and their long-standing history in the community which Abbas Ammar tells us all about, or the New York Times award winning Al Tayeb restaurant, or the delightful Famous Hamburgers family and their story from Lebanon to the US which began in 1970, or The Custard Co. finding innovative ways to celebrate our Middle Eastern identity which Jamal Jawed tells us all about, the brilliant French pastry Chef Matt Knio and owner of Golden Wheat and Canelle, Zein Maki of The Great Commoner and their contemporary, fresh and casual brunch concept, Ali Baydoun from Sicily’s Pizzeria making a bold statement with their unique pizza experience, Habib’s Cuisine and their integrity and community spirit, or the Shatila family and their Shatila Bakery institute renowned for the finest Middle eastern sweets in America – the common thread in all these stories is people’s deep pride in their Lebanese identity and their desire to share a piece of it with the world. The Dearborn community is clearly excelling as far as the achievements of its people go and that it testament to the city’s bold and inspiring leadership and their Mayor, Mr. Abdullah Hammoud who has been in office since 2022, and who Anthony Rahayel describes as “A pride for Lebanon”.
The list goes on. This is but a small taste of the journey we have been taken on by Anthony and Rabih these last weeks. The videos are well worth watching. As a 16 million+ strong community spread across the globe, it’s clear we don’t know each other as well as we might think we do. Circumstances have separated us and disconnected us from one another and from our homeland. We can only stand to gain strength as Diaspora communities around the world by getting to know each other better and sharing our stories, our hopes and aspirations. As Anthony put it, “When we connect with each other and share our common love for our cuisine and culture, we become a stronger community and the stronger we are, the more of a positive impact we can make on the world and the taller we can grow together to become a powerful force to be reckoned with for and with Lebanon.
Watch all the inspiring content here and follow the whole journey which also covers NYC, Washington and LA, in addition to Chicago, Michigan and Florida: Anthony Rahayel - YouTube
A final word of special thanks to USA NGNO tour partner and sponsor: Qatar Airways.