Business at Osama's Place remains steady

Sunday, September 30, 2001

SPRING LAKE, N.C. -- Ghassan Mustafa felt awkward at first about flying an American flag outside his tiny cafe following the terrorist attacks.

It wasn't that he had a problem showing support for his adopted country. He just thought it looked strange flying next to the name of his restaurant -- Osama's Place.

But the Jordanian decided his love for America outweighed any embarrassing feelings over an unfortunate coincidence.

"I love this country and I will raise the flag proudly," Mustafa told himself.

Business at the cafe, named after previous owner Osama Yousef, has remained steady, with regulars from nearby Fort Bragg filing in for burgers and shakes.

Being in a small community, the restaurant's name "is probably not as big a problem," said Ray Collins, 37, who has dined at Osama's every week since it opened. "People here know each other and know that Osama was a swell guy."

Only a few regulars have stopped coming in because the restaurant's name is the same as Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Others have come up to me and said, 'I can't believe you are still working for those guys. Aren't you worried?'" said waitress Tina Jeter. "I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be worried about."

'It really hurt me'

Jeter said a few people have suggested Mustafa and his cousin, Mohamed Mahmoud, were in some way connected to the attacks.

"A couple of senior citizens were in here a few days after the attacks and started giggling about the menu. Then one of them asks me, 'What, you guys don't have a lower Manhattan drink?"' Jeter said. "It really hurt me to hear that."

That was especially true since Jeter's son, Brian Paulus, gave the $540 he earned this summer to the families of New York firefighters. He had planned to use the money, earned at his grandfather's paint shop, to buy a go-cart.

In the Arab world, the name Osama is an honorable one that means "big cat." Some customers have suggested changing the cafe's name.

"I will change it if the customers tell me it's a good idea, but most say not to change it," Mahmoud said.

Mustafa says it gets tiresome explaining that his restaurant is not connected to bin Laden.

"Because I am an Arab Muslim, I think it's like a mission to me to explain to people that Arab Muslims are not terrorists," he says. "I get sick of explaining this to people."

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