Dispute could close Cedar-Riverside mainstay

A tenant-landlord dispute may force Afro Deli out of the African Development Center.

Afro Deli owner Abdirahman Kahin stands in his restaurant in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. Kahin is currently in a legal dispute over the restaurant ownership with Nasibu Sareva, the owner of the African Development Center.

Zach Bielinski

Afro Deli owner Abdirahman Kahin stands in his restaurant in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis. Kahin is currently in a legal dispute over the restaurant ownership with Nasibu Sareva, the owner of the African Development Center.

Eliana Schreiber

A Cedar-Riverside favorite is in danger of closing in coming weeks over a landlord-tenant dispute.

Afro Deli — a cultural hub and West Bank food staple — could close its Minneapolis location due to a settlement dispute with its landlord and overseer, the African Development Center.

The dispute dates back to 2013, when ADC Founding Executive Director Hussein Samatar died and the board elected Nasibu Sareva, said Afro Deli Owner Abdirahman Kahin.

When Sareva took over, he changed the ADC’s leadership structure, Kahin said.

The purpose of the center was to help the African immigrant communities on the West Bank, he said.

Samatar and Kahin signed an agreement when he opened the Minneapolis location in 2010, Kahin said. He said the contract means he owns Afro Deli but rents space through the ADC.

But Sareva said the relationship is different. He said Kahin has only ever been the manager of Afro Deli, and in fact owes the ADC $120,000 in unpaid loans.

“You can see how clearly [Samatar] has said several times that Afro Deli is a social venture and we have a partner and a manager who is running it,” Sareva said.

Kahin asked Sareva to pay back a loan worth $85,000, but Sareva said Afro Deli never gave a loan to ADC.

Kahin said he received a notice that Sareva’s lawyers were taking legal action to close the restaurant.

Afro Deli is the ADC’s top business, and over 800 patrons have petitioned in hopes they could keep its doors open.

Kahin said he pays rent plus 50 percent of the net profit to ADC.

Small businesses help employment rates in the area, and closing one of the most popular restaurants would be counterproductive, said Somali Education and Social Advocacy Center Director Abdirizak Bihi.

Bihi has advocated for community residents to support keeping the restaurant open since the dispute intensified this spring.

“This place was built by the community,” Bihi said. “The founders of the community were written off [and] the whole leadership has changed.”

The Somali community often gets a bad reputation in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, he said, and Afro Deli connects people and bridges those gaps through food.

The ADC’s original mission was to support Afro Deli, a small Somali business, but recently it hasn’t been, Bihi said.

The restaurant stands for more than food and demonstrates Somalis can benefit the larger community, he said.

“This is where our children learn that they can make something for everybody,” Bihi said.

Kahin said he didn’t violate any laws or regulations and doesn’t want to close, adding that he hasn’t received any formal order to do so.

Sareva said ADC has terminated the lease, which will end June 30. He said the deli may be able to reopen under new management after the deadline.