Lewiston cafe closing due to owner's pending deportation

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Three One Cafe owner Mahamed Mahamud poses at his popular Lisbon Street cafe in Lewiston. He plans to close March 31 because he faces deportation.

LEWISTON — Three One Cafe, a popular Lisbon Street restaurant, is closing March 31 because owner Mahamed Mahamud faces deportation, he said.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Three One Cafe, left, a popular restaurant on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, is closing.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Shukri Ali, who owns Three One Cafe with her husband, Mahamed Mahamud, makes an espresso at the Lisbon Street cafe in Lewiston.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Three One Cafe owner Mahamed Mahamud of Lewiston.

Mahamud said he was never granted asylum, and closing the business he opened in 2008 at 259 Lisbon St. will allow him time to make plans to take his family back to Somalia.

He and his wife, Shukri Ali, have three children, ages 14, 8 and 4. The two younger children were born here and are U.S. citizens. The oldest child and the parents are not.

Mahamud and his family came to Lewiston in 2002. In 2003, a judge denied them asylum, he said, which meant he could not get a green card to work toward citizenship. The judge did grant a temporary work permit or visa, Mahamud said. He has renewed the work permit a number of times, but he is now being told he must leave, he said.

“I'm not complaining about his decision; he's a judge,” Mahamud said.

He is not a refugee, which is a legally protected status, said Arian Giantris, director of Catholic Charities of Maine Refugee and Immigration Services. 

"Asylum-seekers are different from refugees," Giantris said. "They, too, might be fleeing persecution or war," but they came here undocumented or illegally. Once they are here, many ask for protection to stay.

Mahamud said he doesn't know when he'll leave for Somalia; first, he must close the cafe. Friends have urged him to seek help.

“I don't want to do that,” he said. “Everyone has problems. It's my problem; I'm going to solve it myself.”

He said he feels shame when he tells people he's going to close the cafe, and is telling customers when they come in. He has to close, Mahamud said, because he doesn't want to serve customers while distracted. “It takes time to think, to plan,” he said. Closing would be better to “respect my customers. I'll be free on the inside.”

Michelle Vazquez Jacobus, a professor at the University of Southern Maine's  Lewiston-Auburn College who has eaten at Three One Cafe, said she was sad to hear of the closing, "especially one that contributes to increasing diversity,” Jacobus said.

Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald said he's "very sorry to hear he's closing. I really like the guy. I like the food."

The cafe is popular at City Hall. "People love it," MacDonald said.

The cafe serves Somali food, including muufa, a kind of flat bread, and the popular dish sambusa. Somali food is meat-based, avoids pork and often offers rice instead of potatoes. The cafe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Mahamud said it is more like a meeting place than a restaurant. In his heart he doesn't consider himself the owner; it belongs to the community, he said.

The cafe isn't profitable. His wife works there and as an interpreter. Things like profits, a 401(k) pension fund or Social Security are “not my dream,” he said. “My dream is what I have today.”

Mahamud said he has served a lot of people, and he doesn't care what color their skin is. Patrons include many Somali immigrants and longtime natives, “lawyers, police officers, both mayors,” he said.

Asked about taking his family to Somalia, a war-torn country in eastern Africa that last year suffered a severe famine, Mahamud said he's not afraid.

“Life is not scary,” he said. In Somali, “we lost everything we had, land, mother, sister, brother, uncle, aunts.” Some regions of the country have improved, he said. “I can try my best.”

Mahamud said he doesn't want to be deported from this country only to become a refugee somewhere else, starting over again. “I don't want to go to another people, another language, another culture,” he said.

His wife said she supports the decision to go to Somalia. “I am not afraid,” she said. “I try to focus, to stay positive.”

When they came to Lewiston 10 years ago, “I didn't know what was going to happen," she said. "We made it.”

The couple said they're thankful to have lived in Lewiston where they survived, were safe and their children went to school. “The time has come to share what they have and to understand,” Mahamud said.

A cook since he was young, Mahamud has worked at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston and for Marois in Lewiston before that restaurant closed, he said.

Many pictures and sayings adorn the walls of Three One Cafe. One saying reads, “Life brings us down, but we choose whether or not to get back up.”


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 's picture

If he was here collecting benefits

Every bleeding heart organization would spring into action to help him This is the end result of what happens when a man wants to work and pay bills

Hows that Hope and Change working out for you all?

Rilwan Osman's picture

sad news

This is a sad news no only for him and his family, but to all of us who knew him as a person and as the cafe owner. I hope they reconsider their judgement since he has children who were born here.

Mike Lachance's picture

100% agree Robin. It would

100% agree Robin.
It would still be good to know the details though; the article is lacking substance in this area.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Ugly post, but every word is

Ugly post, but every word is true. Well stated.

Mike Lachance's picture

I've been thinking about

I've been thinking about this, and I wonder if the timing coincides with some sort of DHHS review... was Mr. Mahamud recieving DHHS or Fed assistance? Does he now fall into the category of exceeding the lifetime limits? Does this even apply to him?

I wonder, because if infact he WAS recieving assistance, was a business owner, and/or was also exceeding other conditions allowing his continued residence here, it may explain why this is happening.

We just don't know at this time. Nobody questions the clear pleasantness of Mr. Mahamud. But we must ask what triggered the sudden "catch" of the system. The article fails to elaborate on this. Hopefully there is an explanation.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Every story is like a coin;

Every story is like a coin; all have two sides.

Mike Lachance's picture

I've run into this gentleman

I've run into this gentleman several times around town. He is the most personable Somali I have ever encountered. Friendly, warm, courteous, and not afriad to say hello, thankyou, or talk about his kids with you with a genuine smile. And he'll make eye contact! A true gem.

However, since he is not a refugee he is at a disadvantage like many other "normal" immigrants and asylum seekers. The problem is not that asylum seekers are treated unfairly, but that refugees are given carte blanche and completely get around the system, while hardworking socially adept men like Mr. Mahamud get screwed by the system. I do believe Mr. Mahamud deserves to stay, but the system not easy.

I've known of many who have come to America and spent years trying to be approved... many dont make it through the gauntlet. Many do. The refugees, however, are allowed to stay forver without any chance of being "kicked out". It's really not right to kick out those like Mahamud, and let others who are so hell-bent on NOT becoming a part of our society stay.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Ms. Snowe and Ms. Collins

Ms. Snowe and Ms. Collins should be involved in this.

 's picture

Very unfortunate, everyone

Very unfortunate, everyone has already stated reasons why this seems to be very wrong. Something in this country has to change, people like him and his family should not be the ones we are deporting. I wish him and his family luck and hopefully one day they can rejoin the Lewiston community.

Tim McClure's picture

We should be welcoming immigrants like these folks.

America was founded by people seeking refuge and freedom. People who seek a decent life for themselves and their families. In this case Mr. Mahamud is a business owner and is active in his community. A great example why we need to reform our immigration laws.

The poem on the Statue of Liberty:

The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus, 1883

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


US Immigration gets failing grades once again!

I'm certainly not in favor of allowing illegal immigrants in this country but this is an entirely unique situation. These folks were allowed to remain here albeit on a temporary basis by our system. They became productive members of the community who contributed to it. They did not bleed the system. After 10 years, they have set up a business and worked long days, have given birth to two American born children who are now established in our schools and now US immigration says you don't belong here and you must return to a country which is known to be unsafe for anyone. If Immigration didn't want them here, they should haver been sent back 10 years ago. It is obvious that common sense does not exist in our US Department of Immigration.

 's picture


Very sorry to see this gene\tleman and his family have to leave our country. ate at his establishment, while it was a good restaurant, i found the personal nature of Mr Mahamud an even bigger draw for the location. Nice man, good businessman, he will be missed.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Somali work ethics

When I was working, the company would hire many Somali immigrants as temps. I was fortunate to become friends with a lot of them. Their dedication to work is incredible. I'll admit , at first I was a little perplexed with some of their traditions. After taking the time to learn about their traditions. I became aware of how strange some of our way of life was to them. It made for some great late night conversations when things were slow.
Some of them went on to become full time company employees strictly on their ability to do the work, and do it well. I'm sorry to see a successful family business close just because of politics.
Good luck to the family

GARY SAVARD's picture

Paul the Pirate, I agree with

Paul the Pirate, I agree with you totally. Our office used to be in the Dube Travel building next door to Mahamud's establishment, and he is a personable, apparently self-supporting man. He gets bounced out of the Country, while we keep our doors open to folks that are only here because we are stupid enough to support them.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The article stated he was not

The article stated he was not granted asylum because he was undocumented, whatever the hell that means. He should be granted a work permit with the understanding that he is expected to become a citizen. Hell, he has two children who are already citizens. That ought to count for something. I know we're all emotional over this,and logic must prevail, but darn it, there's something wrong here.

 's picture


All the statements made are so very true and why is one that is law-abiding, willing to work and DOES WANT TO BE PART OF THIS COMMUNITY the one that gets singled out when there are some that are so arrogant and believe that cause we accept them here that we owe them. I understand what a mess their country is in but I could name several more countries as bad but we can't take them all. The economy is such in this country that alot of our own are without work or homes even. We can't take care of the world. Immigrants have been coming here since the beginning of time with the sole reason for a better life for their families but intended to work. Right now there is not enough work(no matter what Wash. says) and should be putting a limitation on how many we can accept into this country before everyone starves. I feel bad for this man and family but laws are there for a reason and am sure there are alot more and not doing what he is doing to better himself. The law should apply to all or none. As far as his children being U.S. citizens that happens to any woman ready to give birth and falls over the border which should be changed as well. If your not a citizen then your family isn't either and not meant to be detrimental to him or anyone else in the same situation. When all the good guys leave a country it only means that the bad guys win and control the country. Sometimes you have to stand and fight and no we can't do it for everyone's country. We have our nose in to many places now with no outcome on the horizen. My best regards to that man and his family for their future. Its one thing to know and accept other peoples ways and religions but when you go into another country that country is not expected to give up their ways nor should they. I am not offended by anyone else's religion but when you come to this country you are free to have your beliefs but no one should have to give up their beliefs cause you don't agree with them. No different then if I went to another country. Maybe this will wake up the ones running this system and get a little more handle on it then they have at this point. Like they say if you can read my number plate from outer space you should be able to see whats under your nose.

 's picture


I hope someone will find a way for Mahamud and his family to stay and keep his cafe open...He isn't living off the system...He and his wife work...He is a proud man and he and his family deserve to stay...

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Of all the newcomers they

Of all the newcomers they could send back, they choose this family? This guy's making it on his own without any help, and according to the article a proud man, so he's the one who gets deported. I'm in no way in favor of allowing illegal immigrants to stay in our country, but there is definitely something wrong with this situation. I hope someone steps up to champion his cause. Been here 10 years, sel-supportive and deserves to stay.

 's picture


What a shame that someone that does work and wants to be part of this community is the one being deported and we keep those that just want to live off the system with no intention of becoming part of the community and we have war vets standing on the street corners begging cause they are homeless. What a system.

Mike Lachance's picture

Wilma, I agree. And it comes

Wilma, I agree. And it comes down to the difference between "immigrants" and "refugees". Our doors should always be open to immigrants and immigration... even some asylum seekers.

Refugee's on the other hand are another story.
They have a different set of rules... rule #1 is "there are no rules".

When we stop the revolving door and get back to actually requiring those entering this country to prove they are here for the RIGHT reasons, then this country will begin to benefit once again from those decalarations held by Lady Liberty that are all-to-often misued to imply we are not a land of opportunity but a landfill.

I wish Mr. Mahamud the best or luck in this situation.


I never thought I would see

I never thought I would see this day come but Mike I actually agree with you.

Mike Lachance's picture

Aw come on Tina, you know I'm

Aw come on Tina, you know I'm not all *that* bad.
That's why i still owe you that PB&J!


Mike, just when it comes to

Mike, just when it comes to certain subjects...you and I will probably never agree on those but the debates do liven up the day. And that PB&J has to be on wheat bread too....lol

Randall Pond's picture

Lewiston cafe closing due to owner's pending deportation

I am sorry to hear of this happening. I respect him for his decision. He sounds like a very proud person.


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