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The story behind Atlanta's first Pakistani restaurant
How one Pakistani couple turned their passion for food, community, and music, into an Atlanta institution.
Happy Friday 285 South friends!
Over the next few months I'll be periodically sharing stories I'm honored to be writing for the Atlanta History Center - stories that document key moments, people, and organizations in metro Atlanta's growing immigrant communities over the last forty years.
The first in the series is something that's close to home: the story behind Mughal's - a Pakistani restaurant on Jimmy Carter Blvd that I grew up going to with my family. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was the first of its kind, and provided something invaluable to the community: a taste of home and a place to gather. Since Mughal's opened over 30 years ago, the Pakistani community in the metro area has grown from 1,200 to over 13,000 in 2020, and that's naturally led to more, businesses, restaurants, and community organizations. Today, there's even something resembling a "Little Pakistan" less than two miles down the road from Mughal's.
I spoke with Mughal's founders, Azhar and Farah Mehmood, now the owners of Dil Bahar Cafe, about their journey to Atlanta, the moment they decided to open their own restaurant, and what came after that pivotal decision.
Below is an excerpt from the story, but be sure to check out the full story here on the Atlanta History Center website.
"When Azhar Mehmood moved to Metro Atlanta in 1989, he says there was no place he could get the dishes he and his wife cooked at home, such as Pakistani-style korma, biryani, and haleem. The community was growing and still, he says, 'There was no Pakistani restaurant here.'
One of the main gathering places for the community was Al-Farooq Masjid, a mosque founded by local Pakistani and Arab immigrants in 1980 in downtown Atlanta. The other was the annual Pakistan Independence Day celebration at the Gwinnett County’s Gas South Convention Center. Other than that, the then relatively small community gathered in rented event halls or in each other’s homes.
Mehmood came to the U.S. in 1989 by way of a Pakistan Day festival hosted by the Pakistan embassy in Washington, D.C. He was among the musicians the embassy brought to perform at the Washington Monument. One of his music teachers lived in Atlanta and Mehmood decided to move to Norcross to stay close to him.
During his first years here, he worked a mix of odd jobs while also still performing at local community fundraisers as well as live concerts around the U.S. But the income wasn’t stable, so Mehmood and his wife, Farah, decided to open a business, one that accommodated his two small children at the time.
Farah had just quit her job and had her third child. Encouraged by their friends’ love of their home-cooking and her own passion for food, she floated the idea of a restaurant to Azhar.
“I told my husband, let’s go and start a restaurant. He looked at me and said ‘are you crazy? And I said, we can do it you know. And, we did it.”
TOP PHOTO: Glass cases displayed at Dil Bahar Cafe that contain archival photos and newspaper articles of Azhar's musical careers and the couples' restaurants and businesses around Atlanta.