Three men fled war-torn Syria. Now they are running a restaurant in Paterson. | Paterson Times

Three men fled war-torn Syria. Now they are running a restaurant in Paterson.


Mohammad Hlal, Diyaa Khatib, and Samir Alkhawalvan, who fled war-torn Syria and made it to the United States as refugees, opened their restaurant in South Paterson on Monday morning.

Their restaurant Nour Al-Sham has Middle Eastern favorites like shish taouk and shawarma. It also has French fries and burgers.

None of them ever imagined owning a restaurant in the United States.

Mohammad Hlal, Samir Alkhawalvan, and Diyaa Khatib (left to right).

Mohammad Hlal, Samir Alkhawalvan, and Diyaa Khatib (left to right).

“When they got here, they had no money in their pockets. But they had a dream,” said mayor Andre Sayegh before cutting the ribbon on the new business at 1136 Main Street. “It wasn’t easy when they came from Syria.”

The men had to learn English and adjust to a new life in the U.S.

Sayegh said the men are realizing their American dream. He recalled seeing Hlal at the Passaic County Community College taking steps to learn English.

“Everybody helped me from the first day I arrived here,” said Hlal, 38. “In Syria it’s very easy and simple life. Here it’s very difficult, but we have to learn to live here.”

Hlal was settled on North 6th Street, a street known for drugs and gun violence, after arriving in Paterson in August 2016. Before that, from 2011, he had been living in Jordan. He was shown the library and bus stops in Paterson. He worked as a helper on a food truck. He said he saved his tax refund check to start the business.

Khatib, 34, arrived in Middlesex County. He learned English at a church. He said all three men knew each other from Syria. His restaurant will serve “amazing food” that’s clean and halal, he said.

Sayegh said on Saturday the business, Nour Al-Sham, which roughly means the Light of the Levant, had a soft opening. He said the business ran out of shawarma because of high demand.

Alkhawalvan, 42, said his three sisters and father remain in Syria. He said he misses them.

“It’s too difficult,” said Alkhawalvan.

Hlal, Khatib, and Alkhawalvan are the lucky ones.

The Syrian civil war has been raging since 2011. 585,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Hundreds of Syrian refugees were welcomed in Paterson, said Raed Odeh, owner of the Palestine Hair Salon. Many were able to fit into the existing Middle Eastern community in South Paterson. In 2017, the Paterson school district provided counseling to three-dozen Syrian students.

Sikandar Khan, who played a key role in settling Syrian refugees in Paterson, said people often wrongly think refugees are a threat to the country and a burden on the system.

“They came here, and they built themselves,” said Khan. “Now they’re providing employment to individuals.”

The restaurant has three owners and five employees, said Khatib.

Hlal thanked the American people for taking them in.

“The people here, the American people, everybody, they helped us,” said Hlal. He and the other two partners recognized they opened their business during a pandemic. But they intend to make it a success.

“This is the American dream coming to life in the city of Paterson,” said the mayor.

Email: [email protected]

Related posts

  • David Davis


    • Ptown Buoy

      what did your racist ass do for the the city? or for america

    • Ali Erikenoglu

      Here I am, born and raised in Paterson, graduate of (the one time) Paterson Catholic HS and all I can say is, you are just another ass in search of a hole. People like you are an embarrassment to the human race. Listen jackass, I hope you find that hole and never come out of it.

  • John

    American dream? Real Americans take this story with a grain of salt as an American nightmare. These are the people that rip off our government by claiming no profits, most will be off the books. I volunteer and have never seen one of these Muslims volunteering at a non-Muslim place. They are a different breed of human beings. SHAME

    • MarquinhoGaucho

      The only place you volunteer is here giving racist racist opinions. Go move to Alabama or Texas. Obviously our rich diversity is too much for you. What do you mean by REAL American? A White Anglo Saxon Protestant? A Trump supporter? Syria has had a secular government for years and no one ever asked no cared about religion there. Syria's brand of secularism should be a shining model to our so called allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Syrians are highly educated and 60% have advanced college degrees compared only to 35% of REAL Americans who would rather do drugs and wat for their welfare check than do real work like out immigrants do

      • HankMorgan

        Thanks for this, Marq. Hopefully some of the bigots here have learned a few things from your comments.

      • Yogi Zuna

        I have news for you. Whites come in many different variations, religions and political leanings, so you sound racist yourself with that comment. And what do you mean by being a Trump supporter? You do realize millions of Hispanics and blacks and people from other cultures support the president, so what is your point? If you want to score more points, then stop making racial comments yourself.

        • MarquinhoGaucho

          I wasnt making a comment I was asking a question. Or maybe you forgot want "?" means…I wanted to know the person's definition of a REAL American. Given his racist anti-muslim rhetoric it his not hard to guess his political affiliation.

  • MarquinhoGaucho

    I wish them the best and will sure pay them a visit. I love Syrian food , I was in Syria years ago, it had the warmest most genuine people, it was super safe and of course the food was amazing beyond words. It is a shame what America and it's allies Turkey , Saudi Arabia and Israel have done to that country

    • HankMorgan

      I’ve really enjoyed watching South P raise as a great example of what hardworking immigrants and refugees can accomplish in this country. Great story. I like your comments!