Heart of Utah: Pakistani refugee living the American Dream
TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — Winsten Asif, a Pakistani immigrant and refugee living in Utah, says people constantly ask him why he started a Greek food restaurant.
“They always ask me, ‘You’re Pakistani, why are you cooking Greek food?'” he said.
But for Asif, it’s all a part of his American Dream.
“The land of opportunity”
We met Asif just before the lunch rush. He moved constantly around the kitchen of his restaurant, chopping lettuce and making sauces.
“I own this by the Grace of God,” he said. “It’s Greek House, 2654 West 4700 South, Taylorsville, Utah.”
He came to the US in 2014 as a refugee from Pakistan in the hopes of preparing the way for his wife and 18-month old son. Asif anticipated they would join him soon after.
“We got married 2011 and had our son in 2012. He was about a year and a half when I left him,” he said, adding that it was tough to watch his son grow up through a screen.
“He got tired talking to me over the Skype, when I said, ‘hey, talk to me over the phone,’ he said he was too tired and would talk to me when we were in person.”
Pakistani refugee finds support in Taylorsville
When the Pakistani refugee moved to Utah after living in a few other places, things fell into place for his restaurant.
“I said, the one skill I have is I cook good Greek food,” he said, learning the talent from a friend after arriving in America. “And here it is, I start this restaurant. So far it’s doing good, people like my food, a lot of people are here because of my food.”
Greek House opened in July 2020, right in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. At that time, ChamberWest and the city of Taylorsville had a “buy local” program to help businesses in the city, which attracted Asif. At City Hall, he met a state senator and the city community and economic development director, Wayne Harper. They started talking and eventually, the topic came to his family.
“He said, ‘I have a wife and a son but they have been back in Pakistan and we have not been able to get them here even though we are following all the processes to do it,'” Harper said.
“So, I said, ‘I’m going to make a few calls and see if I can expedite this,'” Harper said.
Expedited and reunited
“I called Senator Romney’s office and talked to [Romney’s Utah Affairs Director] Adam Gardiner and said, ‘Here’s a guy who is following the process.’ He investigated and said, ‘Oh yeah, we need to get this going.’ They reached out to the State Department and things started to move really quickly once we made a few phone calls and explained the situation.”
By March, Asif’s wife and son reunited, nearly 7 years after he left Pakistan.
“I pray, God answered, and we finally got help and here my family is and I’m thankful for all the people who helped me with this journey,” Asif said.
Harper said he visited Greek House for some food one day to find a very welcome surprise.
“I’d gone in a few times to get his excellent Greek food. And I walked in one day and he’s sitting there one day with a woman and a young man,” Harper said. “He jumped up and said, ‘My wife! My son! They came yesterday, you have to meet them.’”
Asif called the reunion his dream come true.
What a community can do
“We set up that shop local program, and through the connection that Winsten was able to make when he dropped off his coupons to the city, he forged that relationship and it spiraled from there. The right people got involved and got his wife and son here. It’s a touching story, it’s too bad it took 7 years,” said Becky Guertler with ChamberWest. “It speaks to the power of what a city can do, what a chamber can do, what a community can do.”
Several people came in for lunch as Asif spoke with KSL NewsRadio in his restaurant. Asif said it’s because of his food.
“It’s consistency. The food I make here you will get each time you come here. I’m consistent on it and here I am,” he said.
There are a lot of regulars, including Guertler, who was there at the ribbon cutting with her son. “I love Greek food anyway and [my son] loves Greek food too. It sealed the deal for us,” she laughed.
Faith and work
You can see the construction of the new Taylorsville temple from the window of the Greek House. Asif said he grew up in Pakistan with a picture of the Salt Lake Temple. His family are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there aren’t that many in Pakistan.
He hopes to bring the rest of his siblings and parents over here, too.
“They have a strong desire to come see that temple,” he said. “That’s my next goal. I miss my mom and my sisters.”
But being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ isn’t the only reason he feels at home in Utah.
“You know when you fly and you about to land in Utah, you know the feeling of peace when you are home? That’s what I feel. I feel like home here, I feel peace,” he said.
Pakistani refugee, family count blessings
He said that feeling is even greater now that his wife and son are here after all these years, and they can now grow their family, and he can grow the restaurant.
“It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true. This is a land of opportunity and you have to work for it,” he said.
“What he said is key, that you show up and get the work done, because that’s when you see amazing things happen,” said Guertler.
Back in the kitchen, preparing the next plates of food, Asif paused to look up again at the temple.
“There is always a time for your blessing, and now I keep receiving my blessing. Trials make you strong, and this is a time for me to get my blessings,” he said.
Heart of Utah is part of our weekly series spotlighting good news across the state. It also airs weekly on Fridays on KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM at 8:45 am and 5:45 pm