Andy Shallal: 'I Didn't Have to Come Here, I Chose to Come Here'

25 May, 2016

There is a saying that laughter is good for the soul.

When we interviewed Iraqi-American Andy Shallal at his Washington, D.C. restaurant, we did more laughing than talking.

Until the conversation turned to freedom of expression.

Shallal, 60, was born in Iraq. In 1966, his father, a diplomat, was assigned to the United States. Two years later, when Saddam Hussein seized power in Iraq, Shallal's father was out of political favor.

The family could no longer return to their homeland.

Andy Shallal
Andy Shallal

Shallal attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and medical school at Howard University. He worked awhile as a researcher in medical immunology at the National Institute of Health.

His passions -- food, friends and expression -- led him to open his restaurant called Busboys and Poets, in 2005. There, customers can eat, read, watch performances and express their political views freely. At Busboys and Poets, his customers include activists against the Iraqi War, as well as visiting celebrities.

Shallal expresses himself artistically in many way. At Busboys and Poets hangs a civil rights mural called Peace in the Struggle Wall. Shallal is the painter. He holds leadership positions in numerous peace movement organizations. Among them are Iraqi-Americans for Peaceful Alternatives, created prior to the 2003 invasion, and the Peace Cafe, which seeks to promote Arab-Jewish dialogue.