FINALIST: Yassin’s Falafel House in Knoxville, TN

"All people are safe here"

Named a Finalist Because: Owned and operated by a war-zone refugee, Yassin’s is so much more than a place to get a good meal — it has become an engine of kindness and charity.

From the Editors: In 2011, Yassin Terou came to Knoxville with nothing, a refugee of the ongoing conflict in Syria. He couldn’t even speak the language of his new home. He started making sandwiches and selling them after services at his local mosque. His customers—his friends—agreed he should open a restaurant, and they pooled together to help him launch Yassin’s Falafel House. Seven years later, he and his wife have a young daughter, and his two restaurants and story have become inspiring symbols in his adopted hometown of the power of a welcoming spirit.

Indeed, the sign greeting you at Yassin’s reads, “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.” Terou hires other refugees, to give them the same chance he got. Once a man screamed at him for “stealing jobs from Americans.” Terou calmly offered to employ the man at his restaurant.

For “his message of acceptance to people of all walks of life,” Terou was recently honored by the Rotary Club of Knoxville Peace Committee. He donated the award money to Seeds of Abraham, a Knoxville-based group that brings youth of all faiths together for a more harmonious future. Describing the peace award as “something unreal,” he says, “I spent all my life dreaming about peace, especially coming from a war zone.”

Now the troubles of his new home feel just as pressing as those in the one he left. When 14,000 residents of nearby Sevierville and Gatlinburg had to evacuate their homes to escape raging wildfires, Terou rented a U-Haul and invited the community to fill it with water and supplies. Just six hours later, donations were in the hands of evacuees.

We received multiple nominations for Yassin’s Falafel House. One said, in part, “Yassin knows and greets hundreds of customers by name daily, and even if he doesn’t know you, you leave his restaurant feeling like he’s an old friend.”

— The Editors

Yassin Terou fled Syria in 2011, arriving in America to serve sandwiches and smiles. (Credit: Laura Maples)

Yassin’s Falafel House was founded by a Syrian refugee who went from arriving in this country with nothing but memories of the destruction, to having two successful locations, a very cute young daughter, and a long trail of love and tolerance spread all over east Tennessee. Having left Syria in 2011, Yassin Terou arrived in America unable to speak English. With the help of a local mosque, he started making sandwiches after the service. The community pulled together to help Yassin open his first store. Yassin is kind to everyone he meets, and he and his family have built a life in Knoxville. He works with the community on charity projects and is one of the most upstanding and kind citizens of Knoxville.

The restaurant is warm and welcoming every time I visit. It’s inclusive and friendly atmosphere makes visiting feel like seeing family — no person is left feeling unwelcome.

At Yassins, falafel and comfort are always on the menu. (Credit: Laura Maples)

Stories About Yassin’s Falafel House

Yassin’s building was recently vandalized with Nazi slogans. Social media can be an ugly place these days, but when he posted a picture of the vandalism there were thousands of supportive and loving comments from community members. Yassin welcomes everyone into his restaurants, regardless of their differences. Both of his restaurants are safe places, meaning that his employees are trained to provide help to youth in need. At one point, Yassin was accused of “stealing jobs from Americans” because he opened a restaurant. Despite the fact that he is a legal resident of this country, he calmly offered to employ the man who was screaming at him. Yassin also works with refugee resettlement and often hires them to work in his restaurant.

This sign, a favorite among customers, hangs in each of Yassin’s restaurants. (Credit: Laura Maples)

Yassin knows and greets hundreds of customers by name daily, and even if he doesn’t know you, you leave his restaurant feeling like he’s an old friend. Yassin once held a fundraiser donating the cost of falafel sandwiches to a cause. That day, he served falafel sandwiches well past midnight. The line wrapped around the block, and even though he ran out of pita and lettuce, he continued to serve every customer. Yassin also held a supply drive in the wake of the Gatlinburg fires, collecting water and supplies to deliver to those affected in Sevierville and Gatlinburg. The love that Yassin pours into our community is undeniable. Also, the food is delicious!

Yassin and his daughter, who always dresses for the occassion. (Credit: Victoria Long)