Monday, January 03, 2005

Iraqi Brothers Open Coffee Shop

I wrote the following article for the Tennessean, the newspaper here in Nashville . . .

NASHVILLE--When you walk into Milano coffee shop on 4811 E. Trousdale Dr. in Nashville, Nayil Al-Sadoon knows your usual. You likely won't stand in line but the coffee and homemade baklava is worth standing in line to get. The place is not American hip but the place is impeccably clean. And if you stay awhile and talk to manager Nayil, whose brother Mohammed Al-Sadoon owns the shop, he could tell you stories about his homeland, Iraq. Nayil Al-Sadoon’s father is Iraqi but his mother is Italian, so the shop’s name after city in northern Italy, Milano, reflects his Italian heritage.

After Nayil’s and Mohammed’s brother was killed in 1995 by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers for trying to leave Iraq after the Gulf War, they fled from Nasriah, Iraq, where the brothers grew up, through Saudi Arabia and made their way to the United States and eventually Nashville in late 1995. They received their green cards and began working at any job possible—factory labor, warehouses, and retail shops. The brothers have since received their United States citizenship but still have family both here and in Iraq and Jordan. Mohammed went to school and earned his truck driving license and now drives a truck and owns the shop that Nayil designed and opened for him in December 2003.

“I chose this place (4811 E. Trousdale) because I saw that it’s a busy road, nice and quiet for people to come and sit. I want families to feel comfortable to have coffee or other drinks for children and enjoy chatting a while,” N. Al-Sadoon said.

Those families and thousands of commuters who pass Trousdale on the way to Harding and I-65 can also enjoy several types of pastries as well. In addition to baklava, the Al-Sadoon brothers offer sandwiches for lunch, claja pastries filled with pecans and cinnamon, sesame cakes, chocolate-filled pastries, and samosas.

While Nayil could make middle eastern coffee to that is strong, he knows Americans also enjoy a variety of flavored coffees and makes fresh Hazelnut and French Vanilla coffee as well as straight up coffee. The Milano shop also offers espresso and other drinks such as cappuccino and lattes.

“I designed everything in this shop,” N. Al-Sadoon said. But one thing Al-Sadoon has not been able to design is a steady flow of customers. “I would be happy if I could just bring in $100 a day but some days I only make $20, and that’s not even enough to cover the rent,” N. Al-Sadoon said. “The traffic on Trousdale is good for business but some people said if I was on the other side it would be better because it’s hard to get back in line going North on the street after entering on this side. The shop is located on the West side of Trousdale between USA Storage and Dr. Scott A. Frasier’s Chiropractic Clinic.

“Dr. Frasier comes by almost everyday! And there are some police officers who really like the Baklava,” N. Al-Sadoon said.

“My brother runs the shop,” Mohammed Al-Sadoon said. “He is doing everything he can to make it work, but business is up and down. We hope to stay because we think it’s a good location, but we hope business improves as more people find out about our shop.”

UPDATE: The brothers closed their shop the middle of 2004. I haven't seen them since. But I can still see Nayil's smile, smell that good coffee and baklava, and feel his concern about his family back in Iraq.

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