Refugees find refuge at Durham restaurant

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— For the owners of Sushioki, a new restaurant in Durham, good food is only half of the mission.

Co-owners Jeff Carter and Lawrence Yoo want to employ as many refugees as possible, giving them stable, flexible, living-wage jobs.

“Once we realized that this could be an opportunity to allow refugees in this area to have gainful employment, we thought this could be a great place to do that,” Carter said.

The two men met at Waypoint Church in Durham, where Yoo is pastor, and they have been working with refugees for several years there.

“Our world view is based on our Christian faith. Our Christian faith believes in welcoming refugees, welcoming people, loving people well,” Yoo said.

“Our Christian value is to help people who need help, and refugees, they’re obviously refugees because they’re coming from a difficult background,” Carter added.

Four of Sushioki’s 12 employees are refugees from Rwanda, Congo and Afghanistan.

“It’s difficult to get jobs for refugees,” said Grech Nsengiyunel, a chef at the restaurant who arrived in the U.S. from Rwanda in August 2016.

He said he likes that he can work at the Sushioki and still attend classes at Durham Technical Community College.

“We like Sushioki so much because Sushioki took care of refugees,” he said.

Yoo’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Korea, and he said he he wants to help others live out the American dream, as he has.

“They’re all legally allowed to work. They’re all legally allowed to be here,” he said. “They’ve been through an incredible process, an incredible journey, just to get here.”

The fast-casual restaurant on N.C. Highway 55, which serves burrito-sized sushi rolls, has a grand opening on Feb. 19.

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