People: Hoyo's Kitchen and Stonewall break bread in wake of OSU attack

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

When Somali-born Ohio State University student Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove his car into an on-campus crowd and started attacking pedestrians with a butcher knife, injuring 13 people before being shot and killed by campus police, the shockwaves reverberated far from the scene of the crime.

In the days following the late-November attack, members of immigrant and Muslim communities braced for backlash. In an interview with NPR, OSU senior Mohamed Farah, who is a Somali refugee and Muslim, said, "When I first heard that he was Somali … my stomach did fall. Not just because of what happened today, but because of what will happen tomorrow."

"When something like that happens you just want to stay in bed," said A.B. Hassan, 28, owner of Hoyo's Kitchen, a fast-casual Somali eatery tucked away in a North Side plaza off Cleveland Avenue that could double as a culinary U.N., flanked by Brazilian and Italian restaurants, an Irish pub and a fast-food pizzeria with a name that alludes to ancient Rome. "Last week was terrible. I'm trying to forget about it, and you can't. It's so depressing."

Hoyo's and Hassan were both drawn hesitantly into the spotlight the morning after the attack when Stonewall Columbus hosted a lunch at the restaurant as a means of showing support for the Columbus Somali community, which numbers about 50,000 immigrants, making it the second-largest population from the East African nation in the U.S.

"We work with a lot of refugees, and once you know their stories and understand what they went through, to potentially face some kind of backlash, we didn't want that to happen," said Lori Gum, program and Pride coordinator for Stonewall. "Our job is to take care of the marginalized. ... We have a voice, and we can say … that now more than ever, this is going to be a welcoming city."

Initially, Gum conceived the lunch as a personal outreach, posting plans on Facebook to meet and share a meal with anyone in the community who wished to show support. From there, things snowballed, with Stonewall stepping up in an official capacity and 10TV reporter Glenn McEntyre arriving to film an on-air segment.

"Part of me was thinking, 'Don't do it.' If this hits the news … everyone is going to see it, and we might be a target. Also, I don't want to profit off of this - at all," said Hassan, whose parents immigrated to Columbus from Somalia in the early '80s (Hassan was born stateside and opened the restaurant in November 2014 as a means of showcasing his mother's recipes - "Hoyo" means "mom" in Somali, and she's one of five family members who help run the business). "But these people took it upon themselves to show support for the Somali community, so the least I could do is partake."

According to Gum, some in the local community expressed dissatisfaction with Stonewall's show of support, reaching out to question if the LGBTQ organization would be offering "equal time" to survivors of the attack.

"Those victims have a multimillion-dollar university behind them. Our whole organization is about making sure those people who don't have all the resources behind them are protected. That's what we do. I'm not ashamed of that, and I don't think we have to give equal time," said Gum, noting Stonewall Executive Director Karla Rothan had reached out to university officials, as well as Columbus Chief of Police Kim Jacobs. "Now, that doesn't mean we're not horrified. It doesn't mean we're not sympathetic. Of course we are. But sometimes you have to take those positions."

For Hassan, recent events have elicited a range of emotions, including disgust (a term he repeated on several occasions) and sorrow over the attack, as well as the unease that comes from dealing with the scrutiny that has been placed on the immigrant and Muslim communities in its aftermath. "You feel defeated," he said. "The events that occurred, that should not reflect on the Somali community. We don't deserve that at all."

Ultimately, however, the outpouring bolstered his faith in his country - "It was beautiful and overwhelming and definitely reaffirmed my belief in America," he said - as well as his desire to continue to embrace cuisine as a means of bringing together people of different cultural, religious and social backgrounds.

"We didn't open the restaurant to cater to Somalis and focus on the Somali community, no. We wanted to open the restaurant to give an option to anyone who wanted to try something new," he said. "Food can be the bridge that connects people."