All Welcome Here: Meet the Thriving Immigrant Community of Grand Forks
"Grand Forks is a place where we want to see people succeed."
When he first moved to Grand Forks, ND, six years ago, Warren Sai found himself missing many of the foods from his home country of France. Chief among them? Crepes: the thin, delicate pancakes sold all over Paris.
Sai, now 23, originally moved to Grand Forks to study petroleum engineering at the University of North Dakota. But over time, the allure of French cuisine grew stronger and stronger and Sai realized his heart was pulling him toward a different life path: becoming an entrepreneur and chef. As a college junior, he opened his first restaurant inside the university’s student union, making crepes when he wasn’t studying or doing homework.
After graduating in 2020, Sai moved his restaurant, aptly named French Taste, to a new location inside local bookshop Ferguson Books and More. Sai makes sweet and savory crepes, offering traditional flavors like strawberry Nutella alongside more inventive (and heartland-inspired) menu items like chicken, bacon and ranch.
It’s no surprise that Sai’s French cuisine has proved popular among residents of the Grand Forks region. This community, which straddles the border of North Dakota and Minnesota, welcomes immigrants, refugees and international visitors with open arms.
“Grand Forks does a great job welcoming immigrants and refugees here in the community,” says Sai, who also works as a real estate agent. “There are lots of opportunities and a lot of resources. It’s a great place to grow as an individual and just invest yourself here.”
Three years ago, Grand Forks adopted its “Welcoming Community Roadmap,” a comprehensive, 72-point plan to make the community even more inviting to new residents by improving access to services, increasing community connectedness and ensuring there are plenty of advancement and economic opportunities for immigrants.
Organizations like the Global Friends Coalition and the New American Integration Center help immigrants and refugees get connected within the community.
In addition, the university offers a wide array of support services and clubs to help international students feel right at home. UND also organizes a beloved annual event called Feast of Nations, the region’s largest multicultural celebration.
As part of its Grand Forks Immigrant Integration initiative, the city offers a special “citizen’s academy” to help refugees and immigrants learn about local government and created a speaker’s bureau to help encourage community conversations and understanding of these new residents. The Grand Forks Police Department also has a designated community resource officer to support immigrant populations.
“Grand Forks is a place where we want to see people succeed,” says Brandon Bochenski, Grand Forks’ mayor. “We are so grateful to have created great relationships with the immigrant community.”
And indeed, immigrants and refugees are thriving here.
In addition to many career advancement and educational opportunities, the region is also home to many family-friendly amenities and activities. Mike and Kelly Quigley, who moved to Grand Forks from Canada with their two young daughters, love the region’s short commute times, top-notch school systems and overall supportive environment.
“We love going for walks on the Greenway, sledding and skiing at Lincoln Park and enjoying the local downtown restaurants,” says Mike Quigley.
For Ranju Dhungana, born in a Nepalese refugee camp, the Grand Forks region offered an opportunity to pursue her dream of a career in medicine. She’s also studying Hindi so that she can someday communicate with patients in their native language.
Dhungana, who was resettled in Grand Forks with her family when she was 11 years old, was recently awarded the prestigious Critical Language Scholarship, a summer-abroad language program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. She says her teachers, professors, and community members have supported her every step of the way.
“I love how welcoming the community is,” says Dhungana, a senior at UND. “I have been a part of several organizations that host cultural events and the events have always turned out great. My teachers have always been very supportive and have gone above and beyond to help me to succeed.”
This article was sponsored by the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation. Want to learn more about living in Grand Forks? Check out Greater Grand Forks: Way Cooler Than You Think.