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'Let my building burn': Owner of damaged Minneapolis restaurant supports protest

The owners of Gandhi Mahal, a Minneapolis restaurant that was damaged during protests on Thursday night, want justice for George Floyd.
/ Source: TODAY

Over the past few days, the Islam family had converted their Minneapolis restaurant Gandhi Mahal into a refuge for protesters seeking shelter from the police's mace, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Early Thursday morning, they learned their eatery had burned down as protesters took to the streets over the arrest and killing of George Floyd.

"We won’t loose hope though, I am so grateful for our neighbors who did their best to stand guard and protect Gandhi Mahal, Youre efforts won’t go unrecognized," wrote Hafsa Islam, the 18-year-old daughter of owner Ruhel Islam, in a now-viral Facebook post. "Dont worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover."

Guy Fieri, Hafsa and Ruhel Islam, when their restaurant was featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."gandhimahalmn/Instagram

"Let my building burn, justice needs to be served,” Ruhel said, according to the post. Those words seemed to resonate with fans and followers, causing the post to be shared more than 20,000 times.

The post continued: "Gandhi Mahal May have felt the flames last night, but our firey drive to help protect and stand with our community will never die! Peace be with everyone."

In 1996, Ruhel Islam came to the United States from Bangladesh when he was 19 years old, working as a busboy in New York City.

"When I came here to America, I was a stranger," he told TODAY Food. "I am from Bangladesh, you know, we experienced police like this. We lived in a police state."

The Islam family had converted their restaurant into a refuge for protestors seeking shelter from the police.gandhimahalmn/Instagram

In 2000, he moved to Minneapolis, where, by 2008, he would finally have enough money saved from working in the restaurant industry to open his own business.

"The last 12 years, we have built a community, a really safe community ... and our community is not gone. It's here," he said. "In 2008, that was a very tough time for people, people of of color ... all this trauma, but I built this restaurant to bring people together over a meal and have conversation and dialogue. Then we can make real change. And this community is still here. We can rebuild our buildings but we need justice for our brothers and sisters first."

The Islam family hasn't been permitted to visit the restaurant because of closures in the area.

During the protest over the past few days, the family kept a section of the restaurant open for medics to assist people in need of treatment.

"The environment in our restaurant has been very different but, you know, as much as we wanted our business to continue those days, we did what we could to help the people who were injured," Hafsa told TODAY.

"Our main concern throughout this whole thing was to make sure that we kept our people protected and keeping our community protected," she said.

I felt like we can rebuild with bricks, but we cannot rebuild people's life.

"But after a while, my dad couldn't stay [at the restaurant] any longer," said Hafsa. "Later, around 2 or 3 a.m., they lit the Rodeo on fire, which then caught flame onto our restaurant. And then around 6 a.m., we got calls from people letting us know that the restaurant had been burned pretty bad."

Ruhel said, after receiving word that his restaurant had been damaged by flames, his response stemmed from his experiences in student-lead protests in Bangladesh.

"I felt like we can rebuild with bricks, but we cannot rebuild people's life, and we have lost a lot of life," he said.

The Islam family hasn't been permitted to visit the restaurant because of closures in the area.

"At first, I was angry, because this is our only source of income," Hafsa explained. "This is what my family lives off of. We are always there for our community. In my mind, I asked, 'How could this have happened to us?'"

We apologize, this video has expired.

But Hafsa says hearing her dad say what she quoted in the Facebook post helped her reframe the experience and understand the greater purpose of their sacrifice.

"That was a very calming moment for me because it brought me back to what we were here for and what we're doing and why people are frustrated and angry," she said. "I've been supporting Black Lives Matter for a very long time, and they have been fighting and protesting peacefully for the longest time.

"And you know, it just came to a point where this is the only way that a change could happen ... And it wasn't until this much had to happen for them to just get that officer in custody.

"That tells you a lot about how our system works and how far we need to take it so black lives in America can get the justice they deserve."

On what she hopes people take away from their story, she said, "This is something that needs to be taken seriously because you see police brutality every day," she said.

"It's not just the death of George Floyd. People are being racially profiled every day. And I want people to be aware. I want the system to change. I want to see real change. Everyone's tired of seeing people being wrongfully treated and wrongfully killed. It's not OK."