From Baghdad to Tucson

By Katelyn McIntyre/Arizona Sonora News

It’s 4 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon in early fall and Amna Alquaisi heads into Sinbad’s Restaurant on Tucson’s University Blvd. for her daily dinner shift.

The 52-year-old business owner was up early that day, carefully prepping the food that her son and her husband, Mulsmani, would cook all day. She strives for perfection as a business owner, with each ingredient fresh as can be.
As a hardworking woman from Baghdad, Iraq, it was important for Alquaisi to prove herself to the Tucson community around her soon-to-be customers. Back home in Baghdad, she would always prepare food for her friends and family. That’s where the idea for a restaurant—in the United States—began.
“I was always cooking and giving food to my friends and having parties,” says Alquaisi. “All of them said, ‘Oh my God, this is the best food we’ve ever had.’ So, all of them asked me to make food and salad and sell it.”
Once in the United States, Alquaisi started looking for ways to successfully create her vision. She took trips to the health department, teaching herself how to safely and profitably prepare food.

She knew she couldn’t mess up the opportunity to start a new business. And she had the great legacy of her husband and his father’s restaurant in Baghdad behind her.

“My husband’s family has a very, very famous restaurant back home in a very good area,” says Alquaisi, describing the family business back in Iraq.

But life back in her home country hadn’t always been about food prep. Alquaisi was smart, she knew three languages and had several university degrees. She knew a lot about updated technology, which helped her gain access to a lot of high-profile jobs around Iraq. One of them was with the country’s Ministry of Displacement and Migration. 
“They hired me and just after one week make me the chief of the office for Palestinian refugees in Iraq because I knew how to work on computers,” recalls Alquaisi.
After her work with the Ministry of Displacement and Migration office, Alquaisi found out about a full scholarship to Georgetown University through the U.S. Embassy. And after placing in the top ten, Alquaisi was flown to the United States to receive her education while Mulsmani and their two boys stayed behind.

After graduation, she accepted a job with the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, becoming a coordinator of refugee issues. Eventually, Alquaisi returned to the U.S. for good, bringing her entire family with her.

But as her kids grew up and became ready for college, Alquaisi and Mulsmani began to realize life in the United States was far more expensive than Iraq, so she decided not to move forward with her dream for another university degree. 
“I shocked when I saw how much it cost for my degree,” says Alquaisi. “So then, I started to think about a business that gets me money to pay for my kids’ (education).”

Although it was Alquaisi’s dream to someday become a politician in the United States, she would work hard in other ways. When Alquaisi and Mulsmani purchased Sinbad’s from the previous owner in 2003, she kept herself occupied with hiring staff and changing the menu.

Unfortunately, in Alquaisi’s culture it’s looked-down-upon to work in a restaurant, but it is something her and Mulsmani have made possible in the U.S., far away from home. Alquaisi has achieved her goals with determination, building her character and business to create a life she says she wouldn’t even think of changing. 

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