Elias Dean came to Grand Forks in 2012 from Somalia.
Since then, he has worked in a factory, delivered pizza, worked for Amazon and opened a restaurant, Steers, at 2915 S. Washington St. In July, he will become a U.S. citizen.
In August, Dean and his team at Steers started working at the Grand Forks Air Force Base a couple days a week.
“They kept increasing our days and eventually gave us a store,” Dean said.
Dean said he and his team at Steers plan to close the main Steers restaurant for the summer and focus on making food at the base. The main restaurant will be closed starting Monday until late August, but will still be open for catering and special events. Dean also will still be using the food truck and he will be at the Grand Forks Farmers Market every Saturday.
“We want to just cut our hours and rest a little bit,” Dean said.
The Herald spoke with Dean about managing a business and his experience immigrating to Grand Forks.
Q: What made you want to open Steers?
A: When I first came to Grand Forks, I worked at American Crystal Sugar. I moved from there when the lockdown finished and went to work at J.R. Simplot. As I was working at Simplot, I was also working evenings at Dominos delivering pizza and working part-time at Amazon. That’s when I decided to open my own restaurant. I have a background in cooking, but we didn’t have any local, ethnic restaurants in town, especially for the Somali people. It's a decision I do not regret, because I meet a lot of people from different cultures and I wasn’t expecting it to be that way.
Q: Can you talk about challenges you’ve had as an immigrant opening a business in Grand Forks?
A: Almost 95% of customers are from Grand Forks and I get maybe 5% business from ethnic people. I wasn’t thinking I was going to attract a lot of locals, but they have been supporting us ever since we opened and just spreading the word of our food and our restaurant. Grand Forks as a city, the people were a little bit more reserved when I first came, but now people are more outgoing and getting used to the change. I’ve never experienced something that would tell me to get out of this town. You don’t get that from other, bigger cities.
Q: Can you talk about some challenges of running a business?
A: I’m the kind of person who’s not going to stick in one place, I’m going to try something and, if it doesn’t work, I'm going to find an alternative. Throughout the four years, I've been changing my environment a lot, changing our food, just to see what people will like and what they’re going to settle for eventually. I like changing something every season, that way when people come back in, they always have a surprise or something new to see. The biggest challenge in Grand Forks is the workforce.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The most rewarding part of my job is my customers and my employees, without both of them I would not be where I am today. I’d also like to personally thank Angel Serrano, who helped me open up our location at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Without him, we wouldn’t be at the stage we are at today. I met Angel in Puerto Rico two years ago and brought him here. He’s going to be back this summer. He helped us change a lot of stuff and helped us make great progress.
Q: What makes you stay in Grand Forks?
A: My life is very stable here. I don’t know how I would start my life over somewhere else.
I have everything that I need right here. This is a small town and it's really different, but I consider it home now. I don’t think I will ever move somewhere else. Overall, this is the best city somebody can live in job-wise, we have jobs everywhere. It’s very secure here. I’m very thankful to the Grand Forks community. They are very supportive of small businesses. Customers come to you and they’re not just getting food but asking how you’re doing, how your business is. You feel that you have people caring about you.