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Owner of destroyed Minneapolis restaurant plans to build community center

A Minneapolis restaurant owner whose message in support of Black Lives Matter protests went viral is now rebuilding his restaurant within a new cultural center with community help, the Star Tribune reports.

In March, owner Ruhel Islam’s daughter posted on the restaurant’s Facebook account, quoting her father. She revealed that Islam was supportive of the protests despite his restaurant, Gandhi Mahal, burning.

“Let my building burn,” he said. “Justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.”

The post has been widely shared by customers, community members, food critics and activists, according to Grub Street.

Islam immigrated from Bangladesh in 1996, opening Gandhi Mahal in 2005, 4 kilometers from where George Floyd, the Black man whose death inspired a surge of Black Lives Matter protests, had been murdered by police, according to VOA.

Addressing the ongoing protests, Islam told VOA that his loss was little in comparison to that of Floyd’s family. The South Asian community needs to stand with Black Americans, he said.

“It’s very important to stand with them shoulder to shoulder and fight for what’s right for everyone for a better world,” he said.

However, dealing with the damaged restaurant hasn’t been easy, Islam’s daughter wrote. The family had to delay demolishing the building because it cost between $100,000 and 200,000.

Islam also estimates that the rebuild could take three to four years, the Star Tribune reported.

Community members have also raised more than $64,000 in proceeds for rebuilding the restaurant, with Rachael Joseph, director of Survivors Lead, organizing the fundraiser.

In an email communication with VOA, Joseph also said the Islam family has been “fighting White supremacy alongside the community.”

In the meantime, Gandhi Mahal has found a temporary site. Islam told VOA he plans to operate a new business, Curry in a Hurry, in the same neighborhood as the restaurant’s original site.

Islam said he is working with Minneapolis organizations such as Pangea World Theater to rebuild his restaurant as part of a multicultural community center. The theater organization, which supports human rights through artistic performances, seeks to put on projects centered on Black lives.

“It’s heartbreaking to even sit here,” Dipankar Mukherjee, the theater’s founder told VOA while looking at the ruins of the restaurant.

Islam said he envisions the new Gandhi Mahal as a community center with a Black Lives Matter mural where activists and organizers can gather to find solutions for issues such as racial and environmental justice and food insecurity.

The Star Tribune reports the restaurant owner has long been an important member in mitigating food security and encouraging food sustainability in the city. The restaurant debuted an aquaponic farm in its basement in 2015.

Even though the new project to rebuild Gandhi Mahal within a community center may take years and almost $10 million, Islam remains positive.

“We’ll be rising from the ashes,” he told VOA. “I believe in the dream, and if you work hard toward your dream, you can get there.”

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