Story Project Visits With The Garden Restaurant

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The Garden Restaurant  has become a staple in downtown Hillsboro but, Gufar Sadika (better known as Matt) remembers his many jobs and steps to get there. 

As we sat down to interview, we could sense his passion for the ideals that make America a great nation. Growing up under socialism in Macedonia (Yugoslavia), Sadika longed for the freedoms we take for granted in America. 

“You didn’t have religious freedom,” and “the opportunities to make a better life were limited,” said Sadika.  

Growing up, he heard many stories about America, and the opportunities that were available.  So, at the age of 21, after his mandatory military service, he got a visa to come to America, hoping for a better life, free of socialism.

Sadika learned Albanian, Macedonian and Serbian languages during elementary school, but not English.  When he arrived in Chicago, simple daily tasks, like grocery shopping or ordering food, were a challenge. 

He got his start in the restaurant business at a job his brother had lined up for him. For an immigrant that didn’t speak a word of English, the only jobs he could get were washing dishes and waiting tables.  

“Take what you can get and work hard. Don’t give up,”  said Sadika. 

To learn English, he listened to the conversations of people around him including the customers where he worked. 

“You can pick a few things up here and there if someone gives you an order and you don’t want to mess up,” he said.

As he worked hard and learned more English, more jobs were available to him, and he took advantage of those opportunities. 

Sadika has been a hard worker his entire life, working seven days per week, from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m.  He attributes his good health to working hard and not becoming inactive.  

It has also driven his 25-year career as a restaurant owner to grow. He has operated restaurants in Pana, Mattoon, Morrisonville and Paris. 

While in Paris, someone encouraged him to come to Hillsboro to open a new business.  He is glad he took that advice, because The Garden restaurant has been a success for him as well as his family.  His son, Benny, has been the manager there for about six years, while another son runs Tosi’s Restaurant in Raymond, and his employees operate the latest venture in Litchfield.  

The Garden Restaurant is housed in two downtown storefronts with a third connected as a bar and/or meeting room.  This venture has also benefited the Hillsboro community by adding to the downtown rehabilitation of storefronts.  

When asked if he got interested in the business by cooking when he was young, he responded that Albanian men are not allowed to cook. They were to provide the food and women were to cook it. He says that he never thought he would be in the restaurant business, let alone ending up spending 43 years in the industry. 

He missed being around his family because he worked long hours trying to get ahead and be successful. 

“America gave me opportunities, making me what I am right now. I’m not rich or poor. I have more than I ever thought I’d have because America provides opportunities,” he said.

Sadika shared that the last two years have been the hardest years ever for his businesses. Even though, he remains positive for increased visitors and patrons in the near future and he shared one of his favorite mottos “even if you can’t do it, just try. Don’t give up.”

The Garden Restaurant is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. 

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This story is part of a series of interviews called “The Story Project,” conducted by Montgomery County 4-H members.  

The Story Project gives a unique opportunity for youth to develop intercultural competencies and practice intercultural communication. It also creates an opportunity for open communication between community members and immigrants in hopes that newcomers can feel welcome.  

For more information on this project, or Montgomery County 4-H, please contact Elisha Hughes at University of Illinois Extension ehugh2@illinois.edu or call 217-532-3941.

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