Walking into Yemen Heaven, the first thing that hits you isn’t the fragrant scents of Yemeni spices – but love.
Muna Al-Maflehi is a woman who loves her children, her country’s culture, and the people of York.
Muna and her family had spent weeks transforming the former Spread Eagle pub on Walmgate into the restaurant when it was broken into and trashed in December.
Vandals tore down wallpaper, broke windows and smeared paint on the walls. The crime left the family heartbroken.
But now, thanks to their tenacity and some incredible support by the people of York, the restaurant has opened.
Muna said: “When the break in happened, I felt like I was back in Yemen. It broke my heart. Not for me, but for my children. My children were worried about me, but I was worried about them.”
After the devastating incident, Muna’s children, Tom and Zaineb, set up a GoFundMe page to help raise funds to cover the cost of the restaurant’s repair.
Incredibly this brought in £21,238 – and since then, Muna and her children have put in hours of work to get their restaurant ready for its opening.
‘Beautiful’ first night
Yemen Heaven finally opened its doors to the citizens of York last night (Monday).
Muna said: “It was beautiful. It was lovely. It made me really happy that lots of people came. Everyone came to bring us flowers and to wish us luck – people I didn’t even know.”
Muna even received a bouquet of flowers from a friend during our interview. She and her daughter beamed with pride when accepting the generous gift.
Following the family’s ordeal, Muna broke down. However, since the break-in, she has found strength in the support she has received from her family and the people of York.
“I want to become stronger and not give up. People around me give me that energy to not give up.”
Yemen Heaven is the only Yemeni restaurant in York.
“When I moved to York, I visited a lot of restaurants here. The food wasn’t the same as the food of my country.
“I studied English language at York St John and there are lots of teachers and students who wanted to know about Yemen and the types of food we eat.
“I’ve always loved cooking. Whenever I visit people I always bring sweets, cakes, coffee and meals from Yemen.
“People love my food and wanted a place to eat it. I’ve always had the dream of opening a restaurant serving Yemeni food.”
She said: “I want to make people here in York want to visit Yemen. I want people to know about Yemen and its food and culture, not just the war happening there. I’ve ordered a book about Yemen so people can read up on my country if they want to.”
Muna and her family are determined to bring the culture of Yemen to York.
Even interviewing her for a small amount of time left us feeling warm and welcomed. It felt like we were experiencing a piece of Yemen culture when we drank the Arabic coffee offered to us.
Muna described Yemen Heaven as a place for everyone.
“All I want to spread is peace and love. I love people from every culture, every colour – we are all the same.”
Yemen Heaven is open now on Walmgate, York. Find out more on its Facebook page.