It looks like a patch of sunshine in the line of shop windows and signs on East Hastings Street: a bright yellow canopy with the name “Tamam” on it. You go inside and find yourself in the warmth and cosiness of a Middle Eastern place with a thick rug, decorative lamps and rich aromas.
But it is not simply atmosphere that carries a visitor away from cold and rainy Vancouver: it is unique food cooked using traditional Palestinian recipes and authentic ingredients. The owners of the restaurant, Tamam and Sobhi Zobaidi, say it is the only place in Canada serving fine Palestinian food.
“All my life I wanted to introduce Palestinian culture to the world,” explains Sobhi, who is also a filmmaker, artist and writer. “I made films, art installations, wrote articles and essays, but in our restaurant, I learned that the best way to share your culture is through food. When people like what they’re eating they become less judgmental and more open and curious about the culture of that food.”
The restaurant is well-known to Hastings Sunrise residents. It has been welcoming customers for over five years. During this time Tamam has become an integral part of the local community. A neighbour of the Hastings Sunrise Community Policing Centre, Tamam has been assisting the HSCPC in various ways, from offering charity donations to spreading word-of-mouth information about safety initiatives and campaigns.
The restaurant has hosted the Dine for Safety fundraiser for the past two years, helping the HSCPC to get extra funds much needed for keeping the community safer. “We appreciate the work the community policing centre does and we are happy to host this event and help the staff and volunteers. They work really hard to keep this neighborhood safe and clean,” Sobhi says.
The HSCPC in its turn joined the long list of the restaurant’s loyal customers.
“My wife and I have eaten there at least 50 times,” says long-time HSCPC volunteer Chester Grant. “The food is superb, Tamam herself is a joy and a treasure – and their support of our CPC is the icing on the (delicious!) cake!”
The restaurant walls show the family’s considerable artistic talent, including paintings by Tamam and drawings and photography by daughters Kenza and Maleekah.
Knowing about fierce competition in the Vancouver food industry, Sobhi admits it was a risky business to start. But the hard work of the couple — Tamam is the head chef and Sobhi takes care of supplies and manages the front of the house — proved to be a success.
“We have many regular customers, we call them by their names and treat them as family friends. We have people coming from all over B.C. to dine at our restaurant,” Sobhi says. When asked about the secret of their successful business, Sobhi speaks about the importance of high-quality ingredients, cleanliness, the cooking talent of his wife … but then stops and smiles.
“The main thing is generosity, a part of our culture. When you are generous and welcoming and when you contribute to your community, it pays back. When you appreciate people, they appreciate your business. “
■ Olga Shaporenko