When Abdulwahab Abashaar isn’t running his restaurant or brainstorming a new business idea, you’ll find him on the soccer field. “A lot of guys, they say, ‘Abdu, you’re an old guy, why are you playing soccer?’” he says, laughing. “But I love sports. Especially soccer. That’s my favorite.” Abdu’s can-do attitude and affinity for working with a team have proved to be beneficial qualities for the various roles he’s taken on in his life.
Born in Ibb, Yemen, in 1965 into a family of business owners, he learned the value of education early on and went to Sana’a University, Yemen’s largest college. He received degrees in business and political science, but while he was studying he also worked as a principal for an elementary and middle school. It was there that he discovered his true passion: education. “To me, education is the most important thing [and it will] build a generation that is going to be the leaders of tomorrow. To have a good education for them means the future of the community, the city, the culture … will improve,” he says.
Abdu’s goals of being an educator have taken a bit of a detour, though. After working, getting married and having two sons, he moved to the U.S. in 1998. At first he moved to Michigan, where relatives lived. From 1999-2006, he worked in factories, but it should come as no surprise that he took on an important leadership role. While learning English, he became the representative of a union composed of more than 300 Arabic-speaking factory workers and was the conduit for communication with management.
His messages stressed how important it is to work together, regardless of a person’s background, “We work in the industrial field where we can all do things together. We can benefit our community – whatever city we work in. … The differences between us could be a strength point, not a weakness. Everyone has his own positive things he can bring to the table and add something good.” In 2013, he brought that attitude with him to Indianapolis.
After visiting the city a few times, Abdu saw a lot of opportunity here, “When you come to Indianapolis, you’ll see people from all over the world, and this is a good place to have a business to grow.” At first, Abdu opened a few markets before deciding to open a restaurant – Al Rayan – in 2015. He saw a gap in the market for this type of food. “I compared Indianapolis to other cities that I’d been to, and they have big Arabic restaurants. I thought Indianapolis needs that kind of business. Even though I’m not good with restaurants,” he says, laughing.
He admits that he opened Al-Rayan in part because it was a great business opportunity, with a large Arabic population in Indianapolis and the surrounding area. However, he also feels it is important to share some of his Yemeni culture. Over the last three years, he’s seen a community grow around his restaurant. Not only is it a place for some Indianapolis residents to get a taste of home, it’s also somewhere people can go to try something new.
Now that the restaurant is successful and his two grown sons can manage it (in addition to going to school at Ivy Tech – education is always #1!), Abdu can now refocus his ambitions toward education. Soon he will go back to school to get his master’s degree in education, and is working with developers on plans for a new school in the area. Even though he jokes that he’s “an old guy going back to school,” Abdu’s enthusiasm for this next venture is palpable. Given his passion for community and affinity for business, he’s sure to succeed.
Written by Hannah Lindgren