Abdullatif Dalati fled his home country of Syria nearly a decade ago, amid the ongoing civil war. He spent time in Turkey before relocating to Louisville in 2015.
Abdullatif is the latest in a long line of family members to become a chef and own their own restaurant, following his father and grandfather. He had a restaurant in Syria, but he said his dream after fleeing was to open one in the U.S.
But with several challenges standing in his way, such as a language barrier and lack of cultural knowledge, among others, Abdullatif knew accomplishing his goal wouldn’t be easy.
That led him to seeking assistance with the KentuckianaWorks Power of Work program, which is operated by Goodwill Industries of Kentucky. Power of Work provides job-readiness training, and career coaches match individuals transitioning off government assistance with employers who need eager, prepared employees.
Abdullatif, a 48-year-old father of seven, said through his career coach and translator, Senahid Bektas, Power of Work helped him begin taking steps toward his goal.
“Career coaches were helping him to stand on his feet, to look for jobs, to get used to the culture,” Senahid said, “to basically start supporting his family. And that’s what we did.”
Shortly after their first meeting, Senahid guided Abdullatif to employment with Ingram Micro, a fulfillment center, through Morales Group Staffing. He worked there for more than two years while making plans for his restaurant and selling Syrian food from his home.
“His approach to everything was very smart, very intelligent approach,” Senahid said of Abdullatif. “The way everything started was, he wanted to meet people and be introduced to the community and see the culture here. … The same time, he was going to restaurants, studying restaurants, seeing what’s missing and what he can take from restaurants.”
Abdullatif’s community fell in love with his cooking, but he was still wary about opening a restaurant in Louisville, where he was told nine of 10 new restaurants fail. Nevertheless, with assistance and encouragement from friends and his career coach, he pushed forward. Senahid, who has experience in real estate, helped him locate property for his restaurant and plans were set.
Abdullatif saw his dream become a reality with the opening of Syrian Grill at 3325 Bardstown Road, unit 103, in Louisville.
“He said we strongly encouraged him to follow his dreams and accomplish his goals, and that’s what he followed,” Senahid said.
Syrian Grill opened just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Abdullatif to close for weeks and reopen under strict guidelines, but he said he and his team, made up of his family and members of his community, have weathered the storm thus far.
Despite that unprecedented challenge and Abdullatif’s additional barriers, he has made strides to accomplish his dream, in a foreign country, at that. And he said the Power of Work program provided the guidance, support and encouragement he needed.
“Thank God we were able to do it – we are so happy,” he said through Senahid. “There were many obstacles we had to overcome. We had to learn the local rules, and it wasn’t that easy. But thank God with (Power of Work’s) help and the help of honest friends, we made it happen after all we went through.”