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Building a Better Life

An Afghan immigrant’s story: From Soviet war to American Dream.

A view of Mazadar Restaurant’s interior.

A view of Mazadar Restaurant’s interior. Photo by Hannah Bunting

“Personally, I never think anyone is better than me, and I never think I’m better than anyone,” Bob Zahory of Centreville chuckles as he offers up another pomegranate lemonade.

Mahboob “Bob” Zahory moved to America 31 years ago from Afghanistan, ready to work and begin a new life. At just 21 years old, Zahory and his three brothers left their homeland behind to escape the Soviet War. The brothers soon settled in Northern Virginia, with their first priority being to learn English.

“I knew the better you can communicate, the easier it will be to succeed,” Zahory said.

So Zahory enrolled in one year of English at Northern Virginia Community College, where he also studied hotel management for two years. Right from the start, the Zahory family worked full-time for a better future.

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From left—Sarah (William & Mary), Sophia (junior, Westfield High School), Kamran (fifth grader, Cub Run), Robin and Bob Zahory.

According to Zahory, the family also refused to accept anything from the U.S. Government to assist them. They each had a job after a month, and worked in addition to their schooling. As for Bob, he worked for two years at the Marriott, focusing on food and beverage management. Zahory said he valued his time there and learned a lot, but still aspired to someday work for himself and make his own decisions for a business.

Eventually Zahory achieved the dream of owning his own restaurant, and opened what is now Mazadar Restaurant at 11725 Lee Highway in Fairfax, an establishment specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine. Mazadar means delicious. Through his hard work, Zahory was able to combine his past with his future.

However, this success did not come about easily. Family proved to be a bit of a sacrifice Zahory had to make when building his business. He described the process as constant work, planning and management through long hours and late nights.

Zahory’s daughter Sarah, who now studies at The College of William & Mary, shares her father’s hardworking personality. “I’m really proud of her and how hard she works. That is your goal as a parent, to give your child a better life than you had,” Zahory said.

Another obstacle Zahory had to overcome was xenophobia.

“There is some discrimination in the beginning, especially when they hear your accent. Those are some of the challenges you have,” Zahory said.

Zahory elaborated on the fact that sometimes people will talk with their hands when explaining things to him; patronizing him while assuming he would not understand.

“At least four or five times, I’ve actually taken their hands and put them down. I asked them, do you honestly talk to everybody like that?” Zahory said.

Zahory said he has never felt like a minority; however there have certainly been issues of discrimination over the years. These have been demonstrated in subtle ways such as being seated in the back of the restaurant near the bussing station, or assuming him to be an unskilled worker.

Zahory said, “Because I’ve been through it, I never want anyone to be treated less. In my business that’s very important to me. I make sure my employees feel equal and I try to help them wherever I can.”