A Hurricane Couldn’t Close This Yemeni-Run Deli, but Trump’s Muslim Ban Did

Horan Zokari hasn’t locked up in so long that he needed new keys, but he and thousands of other bodegas are closing their doors to protest the president.

Alex Brook Lynn/The Daily Beast

The Stop One Gourmet deli on the Lower East Side has been open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for years. It didn’t even close during Superstorm Sandy that flooded its neighborhood and killed power there for a week.

It had been so long, in fact, that owner Hroan Zokari had to swap out the lock Thursday morning before shutting down in protest of Donald Trump’s executive order, which barred travel and immigration to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Zokari was one of hundreds of Yemeni-American bodega owners who joined a citywide strike from noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday—perhaps the largest and most visible work stoppage yet in protest of what many consider a “Muslim ban.” Yemen is one of the seven countries on Trump’s list.

“We’re not gonna take this laying down,” Horan said. “It’s gonna show not only New Yorkers but it’s gonna show nationwide what what immigrants do for this country. We play a role in every community.”

Many New York City bodegas are Yemeni-run. Whole families work in the stores, which sprinkle street corners throughout the five boroughs, often even selling alcohol over religious objections. Late at night, they’re frequently the only place to get a snack, drink, or toilet paper in many residential neighborhoods. Many customers are loyal and regular.

The lives of the Zokari family are one such example. Hamood Zokari opened the store in the mid-1980s. Horan, 24, now runs it, and his cousin, Ayban, works behind the register. Both cousins were left with families split by the executive order, with no sense of when they will be able to reunite.

“Our wives are in Yemen,” Ayban said. “I have a daughter in Yemen, she’s four years old.”

Ayban’s plan had been to do the same with for his daughter as his dad had done for him.

His father, an American citizen, filed for Ayban to get citizenship when he was about five years old and living in Yemen. Many families have children live in Yemen for a while, where the cost of living and luxuries like private schools are much cheaper than in the U.S., a friend of the family told The Daily Beast.

Ayban was planning to take his daughter to the U.S. embassy in Djibouti to file for her birthright: American citizenship. (There is currently no embassy in war-torn Yemen, where pro-government forces, Iran-backed Shia militias, and al Qaeda fragments are fighting for power.)

Now, he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to do that.

“My daughter, every time I spoke to her, and she asked every time, ‘Daddy, when are you going to bring me here?’” Ayban said. “And my answer was always, soon.”

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“They killed her dream,” he said.

Horan, the owner, also has a wife and 13-month-daughter daughter in Yemen. He told The Daily Beast he had just finished paying off visa fees for her to join him in the U.S. when the order hit.

“It’s very husband for any husband to be in my shoes now, because you can’t make [the] promises you’re supposed to make,” Horan said. “It’s just total chaos and you don’t know what to expect.”

“We’re trying to stay strong,” he added. “There’s people who have it worse than us. There’s refugees who are starving, you know, running for their lives. So thank God we don’t have it as bad as they do.”

So participating in the strike was a no-brainer.

“No matter of your religion, sexual orientation, race, color, creed… nobody deserves to get the door shut in their face just because of a small group,” Horan said.

The family plans to join the Yemeni-American community at Brooklyn Borough Hall at 5 p.m. for the maghrib prayer and rally, in which members of the community will share stories of how their families are impacted by Trump’s order.

Strike organizer Debbie Almontaser said they had to move the time of the strike because the owners didn’t want to betray regulars.

“Originally, we considered starting the shutdown at 8 a.m., but the grocers they made it clear they wouldn’t be willing to close if that meant their regulars wouldn’t get their morning coffee,” Yemeni-American activist Debbie Almontaser said in a press release. “Even when their lives have been turned upside down, they refused to disrupt the lives of the very people they serve daily.”

At 12:00 p.m. on the dot, a woman and her daughter came in to order a cheeseburger for delivery at Stop One Gourmet.

Ayban told them he couldn’t do it because they were about to protest the travel ban.

“We’re closing right now,” he said.

“You’re gonna close the store right now?” The woman, Lakiya, asked. “That’s right. That’s what I’m talking about.”