Mosaic Stories

    Abderrahmane & Assia Meskine

    Abderrahmane and Assia Meskine are originally from Casablanca, Morocco, where they raised their two sons. When it came to the education of their children, Abder suggested they consider attending American universities for their master’s degrees. Both of Abder and Assia’s sons ended up studying at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Hakim, their older son, moved to Berlin after receiving his PhD in Physics, and Badr, their younger son, settled in St. Louis, where his cousin was already raising a family.

    When Abder retired in 2006 from his career as an IT engineer, he and his wife spent five years contemplating their next move. Ultimately, deciding to immigrate to the United States was an easy decision because they knew they wanted to be closer to their family.

    Having visited several cities in the U.S., including New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, they had an instant appreciation for the size of St. Louis with its beautiful museums and parks. Abder explained that he wanted something sustainable to pass on to his children, such as a family business. With their son already in Missouri, the couple selected St. Louis to start this new chapter of their lives.  Since their arrival, they have found countless other reasons to love the region.

    While the Meskines had originally hoped to open a Moroccan fast food restaurant, they instead found a location on South Grand that was perfect for a full service restaurant. In September 2013, Abder and Assia opened Baida amongst the many diverse ethnic restaurants located on South Grand. The couple loves the location of their restaurant, because it reminds them a little of home. Abder explained, “South Grand is wonderful. It is very very mixed, which is exactly what we love about Morocco. Morocco is very mixed, too. This is one of the places in St. Louis where it really is a melting pot.”

    Abder credits his wife as the heart of the restaurant and while they have had some difficulties, they are dedicated to their business. “I am just helping her to make her project successful. It is not always easy, but it is a nice project.”

    The restaurant did not have the immediate success that they had hoped. Abder explained, “After one year we saw that if we continued in the same direction we were going to fail.” The couple decided a complete renovation was necessary. “My wife took over the kitchen, I took over the management, and we continued the journey. So, after one year we came back from the big losses we’ve had and we are now doing well.”

    The Meskines are currently planning to expand their staff, bringing in cooks and partners from Morocco. Assia is proud to be preparing and serving traditional Moroccan food exactly as she has been for her family for years. Some of Baida’s most popular dishes include chicken tagine, couscous, and bastilla. The couple is excited to see their business grow and hopes to see their son take over the restaurant one day.

    The Moroccan community in St. Louis is not extensive, but the Meskines have met other Moroccans through soccer or as guests at Baida restaurant. Mostly, the couple is thankful to be near eight members of their family in St. Louis, even though they are all working in different fields. Abder likes to get the family together as much as possible, and the restaurant is a wonderful meeting place for them.

    Aside from their family, the Meskines found widespread support from St. Louis during their transition and in starting their business. Abder said, “When I came, I started looking for how can I find help. And, I must say, I found the help I needed in the International Institute.” The International Institute helped Abder with the marketing components of his business, and the City provided the couple with additional resources. Abder appreciated these services so much that he even suggested to his friends back in Morocco that they should implement services to help people starting new businesses.

    The Meskines have succeeded as immigrant entrepreneurs in St. Louis, but Abder recognized that immigrants without family connections face many more challenges when transitioning to the United States. His main advice to immigrants was to seek out resources made available to citizens, and specifically immigrants. Abder elaborated, “It is not easy for immigrants to go looking for help, frequently the language is a barrier.” Abder already spoke English when the couple immigrated which was a big help, and since arriving in St. Louis, Assia has been utilizing English classes in order to better communicate with her employees and customers. 

    Abder also acknowledged the cultural differences regarding perceptions of working with the City of St. Louis: “It’s very hard to go from a mentality where you are always working with family or neighbors, and you come here and have to work with people you don’t know, and you have to work with people who are in the administration and in the City, and it’s not as easy for us as it is for the American people. You know that the City is at your service. When we come from our countries, we don’t have this kind of relationship. So, we have to change something in our mind to know that these people are here to help us.”

    Abder and Assia are extremely thankful for the help they received from the International Institute. They encourage immigrants to find programs like the Mosaic Project and to not be afraid to ask for help. The help of local organizations and the hard work of Abder and Assia have made Baida a success, and the couple was awarded the Mosaic Immigrant Food Award at the 2016 Mosaic Annual Community Event. Being an immigrant, especially an immigrant entrepreneur, can have its challenges, but with the support of their family and the resources from the City, the Meskines have been able to thrive in St. Louis.