Yemen Kitchen Brings Food from the Heart to San Francisco
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Above: Yemen Kitchen Owner and Chef Abdul Al Rammah
As Yemen Kitchen Owner and Chef Abdul Al Rammah sends out stir-fried beef and roasted lamb, he also serves up plates of home. Abdul’s home-style Yemeni cooking brings him many loyal followers.
“We have a lot of Yemeni people come here: drivers, people who work in buildings, and others. They feel like they are near home with the restaurant, and they are happy,” says Abdul.
Also, the restaurant remains popular among people of all backgrounds. Abdul explains that he sees many new faces every day and loves to see “different nationalities… customers come from everywhere!”
Abdul’s Path to Success
Born in Yemen, Abdul Al-Rammah came to the U.S. at the end of 1986, went to culinary school, and worked at a variety of restaurants until 1996.
Abdul recalls, “When I came to the U.S. I couldn’t cook for myself…eggs or anything!” However, his skill and passion for food continued to grow as he explored the industry.
In 1996, he opened his first restaurant in Detroit and opened another restaurant in 1998. Describing his love for cooking, Abdul says, “I love creating new dishes. Everybody is happy and they follow me wherever I go.”
He moved to San Francisco in 2011 and became a part-time owner of another Yemeni restaurant in the Tenderloin neighborhood.
In 2015 he came across a building that was up for lease and talked to its previous owner. Thinking about opening another restaurant, Abdul remembers people telling him “You’re going to fail. It’s hard. It’s tough.”
“But, I know my food,” he says, “and I opened in May 2015. After the first couple of weeks, customers started coming in, we hired more workers, and people came from everywhere.”
Ever since, Yemen Kitchen remains a stronghold in the community, attracting foodies from all across the city.
A Piece of Home
Abdul takes pride in Yemen Kitchen being the only Yemeni restaurant in the Bay and is passionate to make his food taste just like home. Doing so requires extreme dedication. Abdul hand-mixes spices such as cumin, turmeric, and parsley, and bakes Yemeni bread (Tawa) every single day.
A customer favorite is the roasted lamb, which starts with Abdul and his chefs butchering a whole lamb, cutting it into small pieces, marinating it overnight, and roasting it for hours.
“You scoop it up with the Tawa and the customers love it,” says Abdul. Delectable roasted fish and stir-fried beef with onions and garlic are some of the owner’s personal favorites.
The restaurant gets especially busy during the Islamic month of Ramadan, in which “Everyone wants to break their fast and come into the restaurant at the same time,” Abdul explains. “It’s all for the same reason: the craving for Yemeni food. Sambusas (meat-filled pastries) and Yemeni soup with meat – you cannot find it anywhere else. They take their food and they’re happy even if they can’t go to Yemen.”
Faced with worries of the pandemic, Yemen Kitchen is now prioritizing takeout and online ordering, closing early, and operating under shorter hours. Reflecting on other past hardships the restaurant has faced, Abdul says “In the past we went through a hard time through paying bills, getting employees, and getting our inventory. But you know it’s just surviving. Hopefully little by little things will get better.”
Although Covid-19 related worries, regulations, and stay at home orders have slowed business, Abdul looks excitedly towards the future. Currently, Yemen Kitchen runs in a space that has two tables.
Wanting to expand the dining capacity, Abdul plans to open the restaurant in a new space for 40-45 people by the end of the year. “I’m excited to open a new restaurant so people can dine in with their family,” he says.
Whether Abdul’s food is eaten in five months at Yemen Kitchen’s new location or eaten from takeout right now, it will always be sent out with a sense of warmth. The restaurant’s home-cooked Yemeni food has brought happiness to Yemenis and non-Yemenis alike, and it may bring happiness to you as well!
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