Youssef Nafaa, CEO, Bella Restaurants Group.
Youssef Nafaa, CEO, Bella Restaurants Group. Credit: Dylan McEwan

Youssef Nafaa has a deep connection to Morocco and a strong sense of responsibility to give back to his homeland. Recently, the CEO of Bella Restaurants Group was returning to Houston from a trip to his childhood home, Morocco, North Africa, to discover that his people were affected by the devastation caused by a recent earthquake. With a heavy heart and a commitment to making a difference, he has embarked on a charitable mission to support those impacted by this tragedy.

Over 30 days, Bella Restaurant Group will channel its resources and generosity towards earthquake relief efforts. They will donate all sales from their delectable Marrakesh Bowl and Sandwich at ZOA Moroccan Kitchen, alongside the delightful Moroccan Cortado at Coco Crepes. This philanthropic endeavor reflects Nafaa’s strong bond with Morocco and his desire to extend a helping hand to those in need.

Mr. Nafaa stated, “Morocco was my home for many years, and I am so heartbroken to see the devastation caused by the earthquake. We want to do our part to support those affected, and we are grateful to the city of Houston for its help in giving back to the people of Morocco.”

The earthquake in Morocco had catastrophic consequences, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives and the destruction of communities, particularly in Marrakech and its surrounding areas. The earthquake, measuring a rare magnitude 6.8 in western Morocco, led to a nationwide emergency as buildings crumbled and citizens sought refuge in the streets.

The Defender spoke to Nafaa to learn more about his time in Morocco and what he plans to do with the donations on the ground.

Defender: Could you share a bit about your native country, Morocco?

Youssef Nafaa : Morocco is where you feel like the time slows down. You enjoy a cup of coffee and a meal, laugh, and taste natural things. Life is simple and basic. Moroccans are very hospitable people. It makes you appreciate life because, in the U.S., everything moves at 100 miles per hour daily. Many places in the Western world are looking at human connection. My wife is originally from Pittsburgh, and she fell in love with the culture.

Defender: What interested you in entering into the food and hospitality business?

Nafaa : I came to the U.S in 1988. I was in Chicago at the time. I came to Houston in 1996, and I’ve been here ever since. I was brought to Houston as a consultant for a restaurant company, and then they offered me a job, so I left Chicago to come work for that company. That’s when I branched out to open up my restaurant. I didn’t think I would be a chef when I came to the States. I was in college, and my father passed, so I had to support my mom and siblings. That’s a priority for many immigrants who come to America, to give back to their families and give them a good quality of life. I had to quit college and get into the restaurant business and work. I took a career in hospitality in Chicago. I stayed in the company until today.

Defender: You left Morocco before the earthquake occurred. Have you been able to contact family?

Nafaa : My family is safe. I’m from the city that is about 300 miles from Marrakech. I spoke to my sister 15 minutes after the earthquake, and she told me the chandeliers were swinging even though she wasn’t located where the earthquake happened. I’m taking a trip back to Morocco with a friend. We will build a kitchen to support first responders, volunteers, and others in need. I’ll apply some of my knowledge in the industry to make this happen. The exciting part is my friend’s house is in one of those villages where almost everything was destroyed. He wants to turn it into a kitchen to support the people in the area.

Defender: What lessons from your journey have shaped your commitment to giving back to your native country?

Nafaa : More than anything, it’s to stop and remember that we are human. We are so busy with life’s stressors that we ignore what’s happening. We’ve had hurricanes in Houston, and we’ve felt pain. Pain doesn’t know religion, color, or what country you come from. It just hits you.

Defender: What impact you hope to achieve with this donation initiative over the next 30 days?

Nafaa : It will be given to the needy people directly. The more support, the better. It’s one of those things that is great when you are passionate about certain things, and maybe a week or three months from now, life happens, and you forget these people who are suffering. Finding ways to help them rebuild their lives with basic things is essential. Anything helps. There is no time to wait for people to do it for you. Just do it. Bella Restaurant Group will also match the dollar amount from the sales with its donation to the Morocco World News [Go Fund Me] page.

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...