Burlington Restaurant Owner Ahmed Omar Dies Unexpectedly | Food News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Burlington Restaurant Owner Ahmed Omar Dies Unexpectedly


Published August 15, 2023 at 7:45 p.m.

Ahmed Omar at Kismayo Kitchen in 2019 - FILE: GLENN RUSSELL
  • File: Glenn Russell
  • Ahmed Omar at Kismayo Kitchen in 2019

Click here for an expanded article updated on August 22.
Updated on August 16.

Ahmed Omar, chef-owner of Kismayo Kitchen in Burlington, died on Sunday at his New North End home, according to his brother-in-law, Madey Shegow, who found him deceased in his bed early in the afternoon. Shegow said it appeared that Omar, who was 36, died in his sleep.
Shegow said he went to Omar's house to check on him after the chef failed to show up at Kismayo on Sunday morning to prepare for a catering job for several hundred guests. Omar's wife, Anisa Mohamed, and the couple's two young daughters were out of the country in Africa, Shegow said.

It was a shock to find his brother-in-law dead, Shegow said. Omar had been at the home of Shegow and his wife, Omar's sister, Asha Omar, until around 11 p.m. Saturday evening.  "He was a healthy guy," Shegow said. "When I saw him still in bed, I lost my mind."

The family has not yet decided the future of Kismayo Kitchen, which Omar opened in 2019. The restaurant, which its chef-owner described as multicultural, was named for the Somali city where Omar was born. It became known for its Somali dishes, such as coconut chicken stew with rice, as well as all-American classics, such as Philly cheesesteaks.
But most of all, Kismayo Kitchen was known for its warm, energetic and ambitious owner who seemed to beam with a perpetual smile.

"He just had this electric smile," said his longtime friend, photographer and Seven Days contributor Oliver Parini, who collaborated with Omar on a series of healthy recipe YouTube video tutorials. "You could not help but smile back." "His smile never left his face," concurred Omar's friend, Islam Hassan, the former imam of the Islamic Society of Vermont, where Omar was a devoted member. Omar, as he was known to all, was the youngest of 14 children. His family fled war-torn Somalia and became refugees in Kenya. They came to the U.S. in 2004, when Omar was 17. He graduated from Burlington High School two years later.

Before Omar became a restaurateur, he worked as a personal trainer and online health coach. He was a competitive bodybuilder and continued to value physical health while also aiming to help and inspire others to do the same.
Ahmed Omar at a bodybuilding competition in 2014. - COURTESY OF OLIVER PARINI
  • Courtesy of Oliver Parini
  • Ahmed Omar at a bodybuilding competition in 2014.

When talking with Seven Days last year about his YouTube video series, Omar said he just wanted to show his fellow Somali how to cook with health in mind. "When God gives you skills, you're gonna share with your people," he said with a broad smile.

Among those he influenced was Hassan, who first met Omar in his role as imam of the Islamic Society of Vermont, where he served for a decade before moving to Ohio earlier this year. Hassan said Omar was not only a deeply committed member of the local Muslim community but also became a personal friend.

The two men often worked out together at a local fitness club early in the morning after the first prayer of the day. Omar would always encourage his friend to work harder, "He was always giving you advice: how to do recipes to build muscle, to lose fat. He was always giving: a protein shake, a tip. He was a person who was willing to give all the time."

Hassan added that Omar also gave generously to the Islamic Society but preferred to do that quietly. When the group was raising funds to buy a former church in South Burlington to become its new mosque, Hassan said Omar gave a significant anonymous donation. "This is something that not a lot of community members knew," Hassan said.

More public were the generous amounts of food that Omar provided for the Muslim community for many events, including the breaking fast meals during Ramadan. "This is something that touched the hearts of everyone," Hassan said.
Ahmed Omar in late 2022 - COURTESY OF OLIVER PARINI
  • Courtesy of Oliver Parini
  • Ahmed Omar in late 2022
Parini said he will remember his friend for his enthusiastic devotion to his family and his faith along with food, bodybuilding and fashion. "He was such a unique, quirky guy. He lived life to the fullest," Parini said.

In a follow-up text, Parini added that toward the end of the YouTube videos they shot together, "Omar would always say, 'The secret ingredient is always love.'" That phrase was also emblazoned on the side of his Kismayo van, Parini noted.

"He had so much love to share with the world and I think that's why he loved cooking so much," Parini wrote. "He could cook for the world and have a positive impact on his community."

The traditional brief Islamic funeral prayer will be offered for Ahmed Omar at the Islamic Society of Vermont mosque at 400 Swift Street in South Burlington on Friday, August 18, at 10 a.m. After the prayer, cars will caravan to a cemetery in Burlington, where the body will be interred. Fuad Al-Amoody, vice president of the Islamic Society, said that all community members are welcome to what is known as the Janazah prayer and then to follow to the cemetery. He requested that those attending dress with modesty in long pants or skirts and tops with sleeves, and that women cover their heads.

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