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Immigrants inject dynamism into Stillwater

Bill O'Brien / Red Dirt Report
The Iranian couple who operates the Himalayan store in Stillwater.
Fertile Ground Compost Service

STILLWATER, Okla. -- The dynamism that is found in Stillwater is evident from the outskirts of that town on Highway 51 where what had formerly been pasture land is now filled with restaurants, medical facilities, motels, and car lots and a giant yellow transformer robot who seems to stand as a whimsical sentry on that thoroughfare.

And in Stillwater itself a visitor is greeted by a trio of construction cranes that resemble metal giraffes that haul construction materials towards the heavens with determination and grace throughout the day .Stillwater’s downtown Main Street now boasts a brewery, bicycle store, numerous specialty shops and coffee and tea places where people gather throughout the day.

On South Main is found Granny’s Kitchen, a popular restaurant that has served hearty food to a wide variety of Stillwater residents, including students, professors and personal from OSU for decades, and is now owned and operated by an immigrant, Mohammad Mahmoud , whose culinary skills and personal warmth have endeared him to a new generation of patrons. That included, on a recent morning, a group of farmers from rural Stillwater in boots and cowboy hats who could be overheard thanking the young restaurateur for his hospitality.

Workmen could be seen repairing bricks on a Main Street structure near another building that featured a large Asian symbol on it and a sign that advised that it would soon be the home of a sushi eatery. The thoroughfare also includes the Himalayan Grocery Store, which has been in business for close to five years and is owned by Rishi Mishra, who is an immigrant from Nepal.

Outside the Himalayan Store in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Bill O'Brien / Red Dirt Report)

Mishra reports that he saw the need for a grocery store that offers items from different parts of the world when he opened his establishment, and his clientele now includes people from Asia, Africa, and Europe who now make their home in the Stillwater area.

He shows how each row in his place reflect the food favored by different ethnic groups, and how many of his patrons now make their way directly to the row that reflect their own culinary tradition. Mishra has a small area in the back of his store that is now vacant and he tells of how he envisions transforming that location into a kitchen from which he can prepare and sell food. Nepal is bordered by both India and China, and the store owner asserts that he and several other people in the Stillwater community are skilled in making fare that combines the culinary fare of both cultures.

A recent history of the unique foods found in New Orleans, Louisiana, told of how many of the Italian restaurants there began as small grocery stores that catered to Sicilian immigrants that also prepared take out food for them that in time evolved into full time eateries.

It is possible that decades from now older Stillwater residents will tell younger people of how the popular Himalayan Restaurant located on South Main was initially a grocery store. Like the community in which it is based, Oklahoma State University is also growing, and includes several new buildings in an area that had formerly been residential in nature. One new stone structure that is in close proximity to the campus is a Muslim mosque, and the congregants of that house of worship tell of how they have been welcomed in Stillwater and that one former mayors of that community, attorney Roger McMillian, had issued a proclamation that celebrated the contributions made by Muslims to Stillwater.

A visit to the Wes Watkins Center for International Trade and Development on the OSU campus reveals that that university’s involvement with other parts of the world is not a new development, but has in fact been part of its mission for decades. That building has a large picture of then OSU President Harry Bennett with U.S. President Harry Truman. Bennett has been appointed by Truman to head what was then the Point IV undertaking to aid less developed nations that eventually became the U.S Agency For International Development. Bennett lost his life when the plane that he was on that was going to Iran crashed in the mountains outside of the Iranian capital of Tehran.

There is also a photo of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie who had visited the campus to discuss development projects for his African nation with several staffers there.

And OSU is currently hosting 25 young African leaders and business professionals from 18 different nations for a six week program known as the Mandela Washington Fellowship in which they are learning about business and entrepreneurship.

It is possible that the dynamism that those young people see all around them in Stillwater will inspire to create similar businesses and institutions in their home nations.

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About the Author

Bill O'Brien

Bill O'Brien is an attorney based in Oklahoma City.

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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