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No dwelling on past at Bosna Cafe

SOUTH SALT LAKE — At the Bosna Cafe on Main Street, you'll find Bosnians sitting at the lunch counter next to Serbians, and Muslims challenging Christians to a friendly game of pool.

Nobody talks about politics, nobody talks about religion, and rarely does anybody bring up the topic of war with Iraq.

"This is a place where you walk in the door and forget all of that," says Elvis Hadzialijagic, 27, who runs the Bosnian restaurant with his father-in-law, Muharem Mehinovic.

"Some people who come here are old enemies; they saw horrible things during the war (in Bosnia). But nobody talks about it. We're all moving on. It makes no sense to dwell on the past."

Elvis, who was named after his mother's favorite singer and is from the small Bosnian town of Bosanski Samac, takes pride in his role as a healer of sorts, offering refugees from his homeland a place to meet new friends and savor the ethnic dishes they've been craving.

He recently invited me to join him for a Free Lunch at the Bosna, where the aroma of sausages and onions mingles with spicy goulash and spinach pie, and a multitude of languages are spoken over steaming cups of coffee.

"This cafe is my dream," says Elvis, sliding into a booth and looking around at the restaurant's rich red walls and mirrored tiles. "I work 80 hours a week, but I love it. Compared to my old life, this is a pleasure."

Elvis was a teenager when Serbian militia invaded his town, shooting people at random and taking over the police station and banks.

"They went after the rich people first — they were killed for their money," he recalls. "My family wasn't wealthy, but we tried to stay out of sight. We moved into the basement. Night after night, you'd hear shooting and explosions. It was terrifying."

To escape the chaos, Elvis checked out books from the neighborhood library. "I read everything I could find," he says, "and that's how I got through it. But finally, my parents decided they'd had enough. We were running out of money and food. The only choice was to leave."

The family fled to Yugoslavia to stay with relatives and eventually lived in a camp in Croatia, where they applied to come to the United States as refugees. In 1994, Elvis, his parents and younger brother flew to Chicago, where they were sponsored by a Baptist church.

Longing to get out on his own, Elvis moved to Salt Lake City four years ago when he learned that a young woman he'd had a crush on in his hometown was living in Utah.

"She didn't know I existed in Bosnia," says Elvis, laughing, "and now, she's my wife. I had to come all the way to Utah to get her attention."

He and Amela have now been married for a year and have a 1-month-old daughter, Hana. With thousands of Bosnians now living in Utah, Elvis and his father-in-law decided the time was right last year to open a restaurant.

Besides sausage and onion sandwiches, the cafe offers an extensive collection of Bosnian videos and CDs for rent, but none by Elvis Presley.

"My mom's the one who had the crush on him," says Elvis with a grin. "She didn't know English, so she didn't understand his songs. She just liked the way he looked."

Elvis, who has dark hair and eyebrows similar to those of "The King," says he is too busy to listen to American music. There are orders to take and pitas to stuff and introductions to make around the horseshoe-shaped coffee counter.

"Almost everyone who comes here is like me — we're all starting over," he says. "War is a terrible thing, but it taught me to live in the moment. What happens in 50 years, I really don't care."


Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to freelunch@desnews.com. You can also write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.