Image credit: Rich L on Yelp
Many of our conversations with restaurants are dominated by discussions of the struggles brought on by the quarantine, but things were going surprisingly well for Old Jerusalem, one of San Francisco’s most authentic Middle Eastern eateries.
Co-Owner Hajem Almukdad said that with the help of five delivery services and a steady stream of customers coming in to order takeout, his family business was “doing better than expected” in the pandemic.
That is, until a two-alarm fire broke out in the building next door on Friday, July 3rd. The Old Jerusalem building wasn’t damaged by the fire itself, but the smoke and water from the firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the flames caused significant damage.
Almukdad estimates the restaurant will have to remain closed for the next three months in order to allow time for inspectors to assess the damage and fix it. Officials suspect the fire was caused by fireworks.
Still, Almukdad seemed optimistic when I spoke to him on the phone. Although Old Jerusalem opened back in 2005, it’s only been occupying its current building for the past two years. The family moved the business there from the previous place three doors down after their old location was set to be demolished.
In the new location, patrons can enjoy a larger space and beautiful back patio that allows for outdoor seating. The building is modeled after those in Jerusalem, with archways and paintings of city scenes.
Almukdad’s business partner and co-owner, Ahmad Nasser, worked in restaurants for much of his life in Jerusalem before coming to the United States. He wanted to bring the taste of home with him to America, and that’s how Old Jerusalem was born.
Old Jerusalem’s food is known for its freshness and authenticity. “It’s what you would expect to find back home in the old city, Jerusalem,” Almukdad explained.
The owners pride themselves on being one of very few eateries that make kunafa—a shredded wheat, goat cheese, and pistachio pastry that is served soaked in syrup—from scratch. The machinery for the pastry is imported all the way from Jerusalem because it’s difficult to find in the United States.
Their popular baba ghanoush (an eggplant dish) is also made from the freshest quality ingredients. They don’t cut corners at Old Jerusalem. The cost of ingredients is high and dishes like baba ghanoush are quite time consuming to make, but the expense and effort is justified by the taste.
And it’s clear that authentic flavor goes a long way. The restaurant gets patrons all the way from Chicago and beyond, and the local customer base made up of mainly Jewish families has been loyal year after year.
Almukdad and Nasser might as well have picked up a restaurant in Jerusalem and shipped it to America. The food and atmosphere are so reminiscent of the city.
Even though Old Jerusalem remains closed for repairs, Almukdad says the eatery’s social media pages and email inbox are flooded with messages from customers who miss their favorite place.
The immense support from the community allowed Old Jerusalem to remain afloat during the beginning of the pandemic, and they can use your support now more than ever.
While you can’t drop in for shawarma or falafel at the moment, you can help speed up the reopening process and support Old Jerusalem’s staff by donating to the restaurant’s fire relief fundraiser on GoFundMe.