Community Spotlight: The small business journey of Ritiek Rafi

This blog post is authored by Matthew L., Economic Development Librarian, Joel D. Valdez Main Library.

“When you are a guest at my restaurant, you are like a guest in my home,” Ritiek Rafi said to me and my wife the first time we visited Kabul Corner, her new Afghan market and restaurant on Campbell and Ft. Lowell. We ordered Qabuli Palaw, the delicious, national dish of Afghanistan and talked to her about her experience opening a restaurant in Tucson.

“The idea for a restaurant and market came from the Afghan community. There are currently 250 Afghan families in Tucson, but there was no market or restaurant that featured Afghan cuisine.” Ritiek came to Tucson in 1999 as one of the first Afghan refugees to our community and has seen the Afghan community grow strong over the years, so strong that she started the nonprofit Tucson Afghan Community (TAC) in 2021.

The TAC has participated as a food vendor at Tucson Meet Yourself and, with the encouragement of her friend and chef Enayat, and the community itself, Ritiek took the leap into restaurant ownership. Ritiek has worked with resettlement agencies in Tucson and has been a licensed real estate agent since her children were young. “I felt like it was a natural fit for me to work the front of the restaurant. Enayat really encouraged me and promised to take care of the kitchen and the cooking.”

“The restaurant has become a hub for the community,” Ritiek said, but the process of opening a restaurant was not without bumps in the road. “I knew nothing about the restaurant business,” she said, but the previous owner was a good friend of hers and helped her a lot. She registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission and made contact with the Health Department to receive the necessary licenses and inspections.

Ritiek located and contacted wholesale vendors for her foodstuffs and arranged for a service provider for her cash register. “Running the cash register was like a new language for me,” she said. Fortunately, she received help from other business owners, who provided support and recommendations.

Ritiek is currently struggling with getting set up to accept EBT payments for the dry food she sells. “I submitted my application to DES but six weeks later I received a rejection notice. Many of my customers are low income and this would be a big help for them,” she said. She recently received an invitation to a statewide information session with politicians who want to hear from small business owners. She hopes this will help with the situation.

“Business is good, and my main goal now is to get the word out about my restaurant.” Ritiek is working on her website now and has a presence on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. She’s registered with Google, Yelp, and Tucson Foodie, and is looking into #ThisIsTucson. Her hopes and dreams are to open a stand-alone full-service restaurant at another location.

“My journey with the TAC and with my new restaurant would not have been possible without the Tucson community, which I love so much.” This community includes the Pima County Public Library (PCPL), whose Welcome to America Team helped the TAC with a collection drive in 2021 for newly arrived Afghan families. “Irina Delone and Tara Foxx-Lupo were my main supporters from the library. They helped many refugee families register for library cards and helped coordinate the collection drive.”

As the Workforce and Economic Development Librarian for PCPL, I encouraged Ritiek to investigate the library’s Ignite business services, especially the organization SCORE. SCORE is a group of business executives who volunteer their time to mentor new and growing business owners on all aspects of their endeavors. They can help with everything from starting a business, to marketing a product.

If you are looking to start your own business or restaurant, look into the library’s online Business Plans Handbook to help you write your plan. Also, check out Reference Solutions (Reference USA) to do marketing research, investigate your competitors and the business ecosystem in Tucson, and target your advertising. There are staff at Joel D. Valdez Main Library who can help you navigate Reference Solutions and make the most out of your searches.

Ritiek’s market and restaurant, Kabul Corner, located at 1800 E Ft Lowell, is open six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am to 9 pm.