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IRC business spotlight: Mr. Gil's Market & Grill

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Baktash Rafiqyaar (right) and fellow staff members are always happy to greet customers at Mr. Gil's Market & Grill in Modesto.

Photo: Jonathan Partridge

Mr. Gil's Market & Grill
Address: 1421 Coffee Rd., Suite H, Modesto, CA 95355
Phone: (209) 895-0510
Owner: Baktash Rafiqyaar
Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002058043224 

Immigrants and refugees make up a sizeable minority of businesses for California and the Turlock/Modesto region. In that vein, the IRC in Turlock/Modesto is spotlighting refugee-owned businesses here in the Central Valley. The following is an interview with Baktash Rafiqyaar, owner of Mr. Gil's Market & Grill in Modesto.

What led you to come to the U.S? 

I lived most of my life in Afghanistan, working jobs concerning project management, taxes and accounting, and proposal writing. I worked for USAID for five years, and during that time, I was notified that I received eligibility for a Special Immigration Visa. After submitting my documents and getting approved, I decided to come to the U.S in early 2017. 

What do you do, what does your business provide? 

I am responsible for the entire business, specifically management and administration. 

Our business functions as both a restaurant and a grocer. It is focused is increasing the availability of Afghan products for Modesto and Turlock. We serve Afghan, Middle Eastern, and other communities looking for authentic and fresh produce and items.  

Can you tell us what products or services you provide? 

We have a number of items including bread, meat, cookies, dry nuts, kabobs, lots of rice, vegetables, fruits, and other grocery items. We also have a full menu which you can order from. Our restaurant also serves “Kabuli Palaw” (a famous Afghan pilaf that contains rice, carrots, raisins and meat.)

What inspired you to start your business? 

When we lived in Kabul, we had a business, and when we moved to the United States, we found the opportunity to make a business here. We were questioning why we needed to work for someone else in the U.S, so we made our own business. We started our business in 2018.  

Can you tell us about your background and how you developed your skills and means to get to where you are now? 

I have two degrees, one in social science and administration, which I finished in India through online schooling. I am currently studying accounting, and my GPA is 3.8. I plan to finish my associate's degree for accounting this year. I have 15 years of experience in proposal writing, project management, and accounting/taxation.  

What have been your biggest challenges for you? 

I am currently planning to get a Ph.D. in the next 10 years, preferably in economic development. That is what I consider my biggest challenge right now.  

What would you tell other refugees or SIVs who wish to start their own business? 

You have to learn on your own and accept the risk of starting a business. You need to take the opportunity and stay with the business through highs and lows. When I started this business, we initially struggled, but now we're making a net profit.  

What has the community response been like for you? 

It has been positive, but the weak point so far has been marketing. We don’t have the opportunity to reach out to more people since I am so busy, and I don’t have time to make advertisements. Also, hiring people to market and advertise has been too expensive to do consistently.  

What would you say has been your biggest triumph/success?  

Having a good relationship with the community and sticking with the vision of opening my business. I hope to expand the business in the coming year.  

Is there anyone who inspires you? 

My friends and my parents.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Everyone should try to get and improve their education. Refugees and immigrants should improve their English skills.