Moroccan flavors

Hassan Ziadi studied culinary arts in Europe. He worked in the kitchens of five-star establishments. And the emir of Qatar chose him to launch a restaurant in one of the country’s boutique hotels.

Today, the native of Morocco is serving up his homeland’s traditional cuisine in Minnesota. Hassan is the executive chef and owner of Moroccan Flavors, a Twin Cities restaurant that, only a few years ago, seemed like an impossibility.

In 2013, Hassan was working at the Loring Pasta Bar in Minneapolis. He was also preparing dishes at an acclaimed French restaurant, a New-American bistro and a popular greasy spoon.

“Tony’s Diner, it was across the street from the Loring Pasta Bar,” says Hassan. “I used to make breakfast there. And when I got off, I crossed the street and then I started work at the Loring.”

He was clocking 80 hours a week. But Hassan didn’t want to just work in a restaurant – or restaurants. He wanted to own one. He certainly had the work ethic to do it. What he didn’t have was the money.

“I was new to this country,” says Hassan. “I had nothing. I thought no one would give someone like me a loan.”

Then, one day, a friend told him about the Neighborhood Development Center. The local non-profit’s mission is to build strong communities. And it believes that supporting aspiring entrepreneurs is the best way to do that. A chef with 25 years of experience seemed like a great investment.

“Everyone who spoke to Hassan,” says NDC’s Elisa Pluhar, “could not help but root for him.”

The chef carved two hours a week out of his extremely busy schedule to attend NDC’s 12-session entrepreneurship course. It covers topics ranging from accounting to operations. It also gives NDC trainers a chance to get to know each student and determine who has the dedication to run a successful business.

Hassan easily cleared that bar.

NDC gave Hassan a loan. And, by 2016, his restaurant was a reality.

Moroccan Flavors is located inside the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, which is NDC’s most popular and visible business incubators. The indoor bazar houses an array of food stalls serving a variety of cuisines. On any given day, that’s where you can find Hassan. His white chef’s jacket stands out against his restaurant’s sky-blue walls. Elaborately painted tagines line the counters. These ceramic pots are used to cook their namesake dish, tagine, a slow-cooked savory stew and the top-selling item on Hassan’s menu.

“I’m very lucky. Having my own restaurant was my dream for 20 years,” says Hassan. “I still can’t believe this exists.”

NDC can’t imagine the city without it.

“It is one of the first, if not the first, Moroccan-focused restaurant, so it has exposed lots of people to this new option,” says Elisa. “Just looking at the space, you can learn a little about Moroccan culture. And introducing people to other backgrounds and ethnicities makes our community stronger.”

Hassan’s still working seven days a week. But he’s his own boss. He gets to showcase his own cooking and honor his own heritage.

“At the end of the night,” says Hassan, “I feel very, very happy.”