Yassin Terou fled his home country of war-stricken Syria seven years ago. He’s since opened a falafel shop, Yassin's Falafel House, in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, which was awarded Reader’s Digest Nicest Place in America accolade last year.
It wasn’t easy for Terou to move to the U.S. — not everyone was welcoming because he was a refugee and didn’t speak English well. But he told ABC News he learned to “handle hate with love.”
A year ago at a Christmas gathering in downtown Knoxville a man was yelling that immigrants were preventing him from getting a job. Terou introduced himself to the man, offered to buy him dinner, and even offered him a job.
“When you break bread, you break hate.”
“I always invite anyone who hates us to the store,” Terou told Reader’s Digest. “I want them to know us more. When you break bread, you break hate.”
In many places around the world, strangers aren’t welcome. But at Terou’s restaurant, all people are welcome. Many of the employees at the shop are also refugees, immigrants, or Muslims. He’s also hired ex-convicts, people struggling with drug addiction, and women fleeing dangerous situations.
At the front of his store, a sign reads: “All sizes, all colors, all ages, all sexes, all cultures, all religions, all types, all beliefs, all people, safe here at Yassin’s Falafel House."
The business has also developed into a hub for charitable works. When fires ripped through the nearby town of Gatlinburg, killing 14 and damaging or destroying up to 2,500 homes and businesses, Terou woke up the next day and jumped into action, renting a moving van that employees, customers, and friends loaded with water, food, and other supplies to deliver to victims.
They’ve also held fundraisers for community causes, such as Bridge Refugee Services, by donating a percentage of every falafel sold. When he won an award for his charitable work, he donated the $1,000 prize to Seeds of Abraham, a local nonprofit that connects youth from different faiths.
Terou’s extraordinary kindness is changing Knoxville for the better. Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero told ABC News she believes Terou has "really torn down people's perceptions" of refugees and Muslims in the "heart of Appalachia."