Mediterranean Deli, Bakery & Catering
A Mediterranean Love Story
Jamil Kadoura is not a close-to-the-vest kind of guy, not by a long shot. Broach the right topic, and passion, gratitude and pride bubble up from him as though from a geyser. High on the list of conversational prompts is the Mediterranean Deli, Bakery and Catering, his restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C. Distill his tales down to their essence and it comes across as a love story —between Kadoura and the operation, its customers and pretty much the entire city in which it operates.
“My business is me. I built and nurtured it with my hands and get to celebrate my culture every single day. I get to share it with people, my customers, my friends,” he says with palpable warmth. “The saddest day of my life will be when I leave here for the last time and don’t get to come back.”
When it opened in 1992, Mediterranean Deli was a little place with 12 seats and a 6-foot deli case from which Kadoura, along with his mother and sister, served a menu of Middle Eastern staples such as baba ghanouj, falafel, stuffed grape leaves and tabbouleh. A veteran of the hotel industry with a deep well of F&B and operations experience, Kadoura didn’t intend for it to stay small forever. “All along I planned to do catering. I had a lot of experience and thought I could do it well,” he recalls.
Fast-forward to the here and now, and the business is located on the same downtown block, but it is bigger and more diverse in its scope of offerings. A dozen seats have grown to 150. Bakery and catering have been added and both have grown to become significant parts of the business; catering, in fact, represents the largest slice of revenue and Kadoura says his is Chapel Hill’s largest caterer. In January, Kadoura opened a market where fresh meats, produce, dried beans, grains, nuts and spices are available.
“It’s a healthy cuisine and consumers are very aware of how good it is for them,” Kadoura says. “Adding the market was a good move. Customers really appreciate that everything they need is here. They can have a meal and then get something to take home for later. It really completed our business.”
Chapel Hill is a vibrant town with an influx of new dining options. As trendy spots circle his neighborhood, Kadoura is aware of how important it is to keep the business relevant. “Tastes change and people know more about food. We have to keep pace,” he notes.
Listening is a key strategy in achieving that goal. “Customers tell us what they want. And I pay attention to my staff. They’re out there, too, and know what’s going on,” Kadoura says, adding that his assistant recently suggested that Peruvian quinoa be added to the menu. “He made tabbouleh with it. It’s delicious and sells well. So we meld traditional foods with a little bit of the new.”
It’s easy to draw a straight line from Kadoura’s experiences living in a refugee camp during the 1967 War to his business philosophy, the restaurant’s well-regarded position in the community and his dedication to local charities. “In the camp, you learned to be a good neighbor, to reach out to those around you. We relied on each other. When I came to Chapel Hill, it was natural for me to do the same thing, make those connections with people.”
Kadoura says the International Red Cross supported the camp and instilled in him the virtue of giving back. “If it is something that helps our community, we are very happy to support it,” he says. “Dedication to the community is important to have a fulfilled life; I learned that early on.”