Downtown's New Multicultural Market Boasts Afghani Eats

In 2004, when Jawad Rahimi finished dental school in Azerbaijan, he attempted to return to his native Afghanistan. But the situation in that war-ravaged country was too chaotic for smooth reentry. So Rahimi applied for refugee status and ultimately found himself in St. Louis, he says.

He began his new life by volunteering for a low-income dental practice, but without a valid dental license, there was only so much he could do. So last month he moved on to his next project: opening a downtown convenience store, where he serves fresh Afghani food on the side.

J.R. Market is located on Locust Street between 20th and 21st streets, next door to swanky Pepper Lounge in the downtown Loft District. Its aisles are stocked with items from multiple continents: rice and tea sets from the Middle East, chocolates and baked goods from Britain and continental Europe, and hats and scarves from Africa. The walls and ceiling are decorated with Arabic art and Persian-style rugs.

Customers can also order fresh Afghani food, which Rahimi cooks in a kitchen in the back. The menu includes typical Middle Eastern fare: lamb kebabs, rice, gyros and macaroni topped with ground meat and cheese -- "because America is famous for putting cheese on food," says Rahimi.

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