SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Hayder Hayyawi’s father was a truck driver for the U.S. Army in Iraq. When the military left the region in 2011, so did the family. Eventually, they ended up in Sioux Falls.

Hayyawi spent most of his childhood in Najaf, a city of around a million in central Iraq. Once the U.S. military left the region, his family left the country, moving to Turkey. Hayyawi, then just 15 years old, worked as a translator.

“We did struggle a lot down in Turkey,” Hayyawi told KELOLAND News. “It was a refugee stage, so we were not able to really do legal work — we were under the threat that people could come and get my dad at any time.”

On January 29, 2014, the family moved to the U.S. Here, Hayyawi completed his pharmacy technician degree and got a business degree in San Diego. After operating a dealership in San Diego, he moved to Sioux Falls to be with his family.

Hayyawi’s father has had many surgeries, both for his heart and back. Due to the strain, he is unable to work. “So it ended up all on me,” said Hayyawi. “Still to this day.”

The Neighborhood Market, located at 4301 E 12th St. is Hayyawi’s third business location in the city. He also owns the dealership, First Option Auto Sales, East next door. Through these businesses, he supports his family, including his father and two younger brothers, one who is in school, and the other who works at the dealership.

“I did all this for my family,” Hayyawi said, gazing around his store, “not just for myself. I’m the only help they have.”

And what he’s done is a lot. Hayyawi bought the location in 2020, and ran it as a Shop ‘N Cart convenience store/gas station until the beginning of 2022, when he closed the convenience store and reopened it as a local middle eastern grocery and restaurant, offering many items and fares difficult to find, including halal foods.

The change was spurred by persisting issues.

“We used to have so much theft and break-ins — we even had people selling drugs inside the store back then,” Hayyawi said of the time operating the Shop ‘N Cart, which was a 24-hour business. “I decided to switch it to something I know, which is a grocery store and restaurant.”

The Neighborhood Market opened in February 2022, with the goal of being just that — local neighborhood grocery and restaurant.

“We had our first break-in in March,” Hayyawi said grimly. “Then we had a lot of threats.”

Hayyawi says that the decision to switch from a convenience store to a grocery angered some people in the area.

“We had a lot of incidents where a customer comes and says ‘we don’t like that you guys did this — we liked it as Shop ‘N Cart,’ because there used to be liquor and beer and all that,” said Hayyawi.

While some are clearly angered by Hayyawi’s decision to stop selling liquor, he points out that Casey’s convenience store is just around the corner, a mere 6-minute walk, according to Google. There are also two Hy-Vees, each with a liquor store in the neighborhood, 0.9 miles and 1.1 miles away.

There was another break-in in June, says Hayyawi. Someone walked in and asked to buy tobacco products. They had no ID, and when they were told they could not buy without it, they pulled a gun out.

“We just gave him what he wanted,” said Hayyawi, but the robber also damaged the front door.

On Wednesday, Nov. 7, things escalated further.

Hayyawi and his fiancé, Reem Alsulaimawi were cleaning up in the kitchen after closing.

“As soon as we start cleaning, all we hear is things getting damaged — things breaking,” said Hayyawi. “I tried to go out with a knife in my hand, but [Alsulaimawi] pulled me back.”

The pair decided to hide in the walk-in freezer in the kitchen while the destruction unfolded just yards away. Listening from the back, Hayyawi told me he believes the destruction continued for around 3-5 minutes.

The walk-in freezer in the kitchen where Hayyawi and Alsulaimawi took refuge.

“I called the cops, and she called my family,” Hayyawi said. “I was on the phone with the cops for at least 10 minutes before they showed up — they did not come in. My dad came in and told us the place was safe.”

As he walked out of the kitchen and into the storefront, Hayyawi attempted to absorb the damage around him. “I couldn’t take it that night,” he admitted. “I had to realize what happened in the morning.”

The damage was extensive.

In the destruction, Hayyawi estimates that he’s lost around 40% of his inventory. The point of sale (POS) system for gas sales was also destroyed. He told me that could cost up to $50k to repair.

In all, Hayyawi said he’ll likely have to pull together $200-300k to get things back to the way they were. In terms of repairs, he says that for the POS system alone, he’s looking at around 2 or 3 weeks.

Damaged POS system

Hayyawi says it’s clear that this was no simple robbery. “I’m sure it’s a hate crime,” he said firmly. “Three times in a row — all they stole was the vapes and some cash. But the damage — nobody would do that over vapes or some cash.”

As of Friday afternoon, the Sioux Falls Police say that while the break-in is under investigation as a burglary and intentional damage to property, they do not see evidence of a hate crime as defined by South Dakota law.

Others disagree, however.

“There was intentional hatred,” said Jen Dreiske with South Dakota Voices for Peace.

Dreiske was one of a number of community members who assisted in helping to pick up the pieces the day after the break-in. “There was an intention of destroying the business,” she said. “It’s a culmination of events that leads us to believe that hate is indeed a part of this — Islamophobia could be a big factor in this.”

According to Dreiske, the element of anger over the removal of alcohol also does not rule out a hate crime. “Being frustrated and angry that the food that they are used to, and the liquor not being there — ‘oh, it’s because of this being a halal market,'” she posited. “It can lead right into the Islamophobia.”

Hayyawi, for his part, definitely feels like he is a target of these attacks. “A week prior [to the break-in] we had the keys and titles stolen from the office to all the cars that we own next door,” he said.

As we sat in the restaurant that was once a walk-in beer cave, I could see the conflict that is going on within Hayyawi’s mind. He’s trying to decide whether to hold on at the store’s current location or to sell it and leave the neighborhood. He says this would be the worst-case scenario.

This would be a possibility. Hayyawi already has a western Sioux Falls location nearing it’s opening date, and he could make that the focus of his business. He is confident his clientele would travel across town (Alsulaimawi tells me people come from as far away as Omaha to get things they need), but selling the current location could be a challenge.

One issue is that Hayyawi is under contract with Sinclair to sell gas until 2027. A prospective buyer would need to be willing to take on that contract. Also, a factor is the time and money that has gone into this store.

“I just wanted a safer place for families to come in,” Hayyawi said. “I couldn’t even sleep at night when it used to be Shop N’ Cart — I put so much money into this, and I did not give up the first, second, or even the third time. We’re not going to give up.”

To those upset with his decision to change the business model, Hayyawi asks that they reconsider. He says that the change he’s made is a change for the good. “It used to be a bad area in here,” he said. “Really bad.”

Hayyawi praised the help he received from the community on Thursday. “I appreciate it a lot,” he said.

Going forward, Hayyawi is considering taking further action to prevent what he calls ‘bad people’ from coming in, such as discontinuing the sale of certain tobacco products or even cigarettes. “We’ll just leave it as a market and restaurant,” he said. “We’ll have our own customers, you know. Daily customers who love it.”

The market does indeed have those customers. “I wasn’t expecting to see 70% of my customers are American,” Hayyawi said with a wry smile. “I was really depending on the community from the Middle East and Europe — I was surprised.”

He says he is very grateful for his American customers, many of whom come in with specific things they are looking for.

The store itself carries a variety of things that can be hard to find in the area, with some being shipped from places such as California or Chicago, and still others coming from places like Turkey or Iraq.

For those who need it, Hayyawi is able to confirm the meat he sells is Halal; having a meat license, he butchers it himself. “We have our daily customers who come here for the meat,” he said.

“We’re not asking for much to be honest,” said Hayyawi when he was asked what he needs now from the community. “They already stepped up and helped. I’d just like to know who did this, and decreasing the chance of this happening again would help a lot,” he said.

Dreiske gave her input on how we all can help. “We all can do our part,” she said. “Let’s step out of our Hy-Vees and Walmarts and Aldis for our groceries and let’s go to the community grocery marts.”

Just your presence, according to Dreiske could be enough to help keep a business a safe place.

In terms of more immediate action, a GoFundMe has been set up for Hayyawi and his store by SD Voices for Peace and Startup Sioux Falls. You can find that here.