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April 26, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Ahmed El-Tayash was leaving Columbia for a new job in Atlanta six years ago. But he had a problem. There was no way he could fit all of his belongings in his car for the move. He decided to leave most of his things behind with his family.
His brother Aziz El-Tayash called him when he was already on the road. Aziz told Ahmed that he was on his way to Georgia in a truck filled with everything he had left.
The action was typical of his older brother who is always finding ways to surprise him with kindness and always willing to help him out of a bind.
The brothers’ ties to Columbia are strong. Aziz was born in Benghazi, Libya, shortly before their father, Youssef, brought the family to the United States in 1979. In 1984, Youssef bought Campus Eastern Foods, which today stands renamed as A&Y Global Market in a new location just north of Broadway on Fourth Street.
The brothers grew up in a family of five children — a basketball team of boys, in Ahmed’s terms. Aziz, 34, the second son, and Ahmed, 31, the third, each took turns staffing the store. Many of Aziz and Ahmed’s customers can still remember when the boys could barely reach over the counter. “I like to think I put the most time in, but he would disagree,” Ahmed says with a laugh. Aziz rarely works in the store now. In 1998, he opened Casablanca Mediterranean Grill, a dream borne out of learning Libyan recipes from his mother as a child.
The younger brother talks fast and emphatically, using his hands to gesture expressively. Where Ahmed’s mannerisms are exaggerated, Aziz is more stoic. The family resemblance is undeniable, but Aziz is stouter than his younger brother and wears a trademark hat to show his allegiance to the Cardinals, one thing the brothers do not agree on.
They still chide each other, as brothers are wont to do. As one of them tells the story of their family’s ties to Columbia, the other is apt to butt in at any moment to correct and elaborate.
Today, the brothers run their own businesses with others. Ahmed is the co-owner of A&Y Global Market, and Aziz is the co-owner of Casablanca, which until last fall were across from each other on Fifth Street.
The family gained new prominence during last year’s Libyan revolution when the brothers took to the streets of Columbia to gain attention for the movement that would eventually depose the nation’s dictator. Ahmed organized the city’s Libyan community in two demonstrations against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, and both brothers raised money for the revolution. A fundraising dinner at Casablanca raised $6,000.
Although the brothers are separated by Broadway after the grocery’s October move, the two are still in and out of each other’s establishments throughout the day. Ahmed carries most of the supplies his brother needs at the restaurant.
“The good thing about having a family business is that you have people that you can depend on, people you can trust,” Ahmed says.