Jack Dorsey’s Square Tells the Timely, Inspiring Story of a Syrian Refugee’s Success

The American dream, with falafel on the side

“We’re going to keep the American dream going, because this country is for everybody.”

Those are the words of Yassin Terou, proprietor of Yassin’s Falafel House in Knoxville, Tenn. We meet him in the timely and poignant eight-minute film below, which chronicles his success on these shores after he fled war-torn Syria in search of a better life.

“A lot of my Arabic friends, they [are] scared to come here. [They are] like, ‘Oh, they hate Muslims. You will not have a good life in America,’ ” he says in the short documentary. It’s the first installment in a series from mobile payments company Square.

The campaign’s overarching title is: “For Every Kind of Dream.”

“You come to a country and you don’t have nothing,” Terou says. “Where do you start? Like you start with people—maybe they speak the same language.”

After arriving in Tennessee six years ago, Terou was reluctant to accept charity. To get by, he began selling falafel sandwiches outside Knoxville’s Annoor Mosque after services. “This [is] my food. And I want to give it with my love, with my style,” he says.

Over time, his culinary reputation began to grow.

“This guy for a year or two years just consistently would come and sell these sandwiches,” Nadeem Saddiqi, one of the local worshippers, recalls in the film. “A lot of people would line up after the prayers got out. So I tried out his sandwich and it was really some of the best I’ve ever had. So I asked him, ‘Why don’t you just open up a store?’ “

Saddiqi put up his own money, and the pair launched Yassin’s Falafel House in 2014. They’ve enjoyed a thriving business ever since, and in the true American spirit, plan to open more locations soon, perhaps even expanding into different cities.

“It’s not only work, it’s a message,” says Terou. “My customers, they are my friends. Different faiths, different colors, different races: This is what Yassin’s Falafel House is about. It’s about community.”

Developed by production house Even/Odd, the film launched Thursday online and at a special screening in Terou’s restaurant.

“Yassin is a great example of a small-business owner who embodies inspiration, hope and confidence in creating community through his business,” Square CMO Kevin Burke tells AdFreak. “We believe that when empowered with the right tools, every entrepreneur can make their dream a reality.”

Terou was even interviewed on Facebook Live by Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of both Square and Twitter. When Dorsey asks Terou for his definition of the American dream, the restauranteur replies, “Life. Because if you don’t have a dream, you don’t have life.”

Though Terou employs various Square products—subsequent films in the series will feature some of its other business partners—the company’s name isn’t mentioned in the documentary, which plays almost like an extended profile on a news program. It’s quite poignant, all the more so in light of President Trump’s incendiary moves on Friday to temporarily suspend the U.S. refugee program and ban travelers from several Muslim countries, including Syria.

“One of the biggest challenges of the film, and any film with this type of emotion, is in the interview,” says director Mohammad Gorjestani. “I knew that what Yassin had experienced was incredibly difficult, and I wanted to dig deep in order to show that untapped raw emotion. But I wanted to do so on his terms and when he felt the most comfortable. We decided to do the the interview with him on our last day of production. The idea being that by then, we would have earned his trust and he would be comfortable enough with us.”

Ultimately, the piece strikes a perfect balance. Its subject’s indomitable spirit shines through, but we never lapse into clichés or overly sentimental territory.

"Whatever happens outside of this store, just forget about it and come in. You are safe here."
Yassin Terou

“We were able to reveal emotions that even Yassin told me afterwards that he hadn’t really expressed to anyone,” Gorjestani says. “As a result, you see a multi-dimensional version of Yassin which is truly a treat for the audience.”

Viewing his success through a small-business prism serves Square exceptionally well. A wide swath of viewers should be able to appreciate the man’s commitment to hard work and personal sacrifice. And because Square operates very much in the background to help entrepreneurs, it seems fitting that the company’s sponsorship of the film is low key.

“Yassin is now giving back to the community that supported him along the way, and truly paying it forward” through outreach that includes donating food to the homeless, says Gorjestani. “His establishment represents a beacon of hope and inclusion, where everyone is accepted. That’s a powerful message.”

Terou puts it all in perspective: “Whatever happens outside of this store, just forget about it and come in. You are safe here.”

Substitute “America” for “this store,” and you’ve got some provocative food for thought.

Square Creative Team:
Chief Marketing Officer: Kevin Burke
Creative Director: Sean Conroy
Head of Production: Justin Lomax
Editor: Carl Sturgess
Assistant Editor: Steven Dupré
Postproduction Supervisor: Nicholas Brown
Production Coordinator: Lisa Yadao

Production Company: Even/Odd
Executive Producers: Malcolm Pullinger, Mohammad Gorjestani
Creative Director: Malcolm Pullinger
Director: Mohammad Gorjestani
Producer: Ashley Rodholm
Director of Photography: Devin Whetstone
Colorist: Ayumi Ashley
Sound Design, Mix: Joel Raabe
Composer: Keith Kenniff

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@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.