A Knoxville restaurant has been named ‘The Nicest Place in America’ by Reader’s Digest.
Yassin’s Falafel House was named the Nicest Place in America. Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts made the announcement Thursday to owner Yassin Terou, who traveled to New York believing he had been named as a finalist for the award.
SURPRISE! @RobinRoberts surprises Yassin Terou, owner of Yassin’s Falafel House, and tells him that his restaurant in Knoxville, TN is @readersdigest NICEST PLACE IN AMERICA! https://t.co/GG3cCk1jPg #NicestPlacesinAmerica pic.twitter.com/beM90Nee4W— Good Morning America (@GMA) October 11, 2018
The award was a collaboration of Reader’s Digest, ABC’s Good Morning America and 10Best.com. Over 450 people submitted nominations, with Yassin’s garnering multiple nominations.
“I feel very grateful to be on this team and I feel like he deserves it,” said employee James McClure.
“The open communication allows us to, no matter where our backgrounds are from, to talk about where we’re going with the restaurant,” added employee Austin Spidell.
Terou and his family fled a war-torn Syria in 2011. He sold sandwiches outside a local mosque before eventually opening his first restaurant in 2014. Terou opened a second restaurant in West Knoxville in 2017.
“He’s not like a boss, he’s like a friend, like a brother,” said employee Hunar Muhammed.
Muhammed says he too is a refugee, finding a new home in America after leaving Kurdistan.
“He tried to help me. So he gave me the job. I’m still working here and now I’m the manager. It’s like a dream, an American dream,” he said.
Terou and his restaurants have maintained a strong philanthropic presence in the community. He’s previously held fundraisers to benefit ‘Bridge Refugee Services’ and offered free food to those fleeing North Carolina due to Hurricane Florence.
“I was unemployed, just walking down the street, I was over here at the library looking for a job and I walked in here. He said ‘Start tomorrow,’ and I’ve been here ever since,” said McClure.
Signs reading “Welcome 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,” are displayed prominently at both restaurants.
“Every time I’m here, I always feel welcome. Why would I go anywhere else,” said Alizza Punzalan-Randle with YWCA.
“For me as a chef in this environment, it makes me feel good to know that there’s no discrimination on anything at all and it just makes it feel warm,” said Tony and Lisa Ramsey, visiting from Nashville.
“I think he not just holds the values of welcoming every person and treating every person with dignity, but he’s out in front and with that taking a stand and sending a message loudly,” said diner Sarah Ringer.
Yassin’s Falafel garnered national recognition when the restaurant was profiled in a short film produced by Square, the film was a finalist at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Inside @readersdigest ‘Nicest Place in America’ – a refugee-owned falafel shop in Knoxville, TN. Yassin Terou is paying it forward for other refugees and helping their American dreams come true. https://t.co/smrNw2EkvS #NicestPlacesinAmerica pic.twitter.com/BcTNMWG231— Good Morning America (@GMA) October 11, 2018
What an honor to have Yassin Terou, owner of Yassin’s Falafel House, at the studio! His restaurant in Knoxville, TN is @readersdigest NICEST PLACE IN AMERICA! https://t.co/smrNw2EkvS #NicestPlacesinAmerica pic.twitter.com/1T1Jf6KBT7— Good Morning America (@GMA) October 11, 2018