By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — An aroma of food and desserts filled a piece of land owned by Hype Athletics, 23302 W. Warren Ave., as over 20 vendors prepared their items for the crowds of customers at the second annual Ramadan Suhoor Festival.
Hype Athletics Founder and CEO Ali Sayed donated the land so the festival could take place.
“Ali has done so much for the community and never ceases to amaze me with his generosity,” festival organizer and pharmacist Hassan Chami said.
Chami was inspired by the success of a pop-up festival in the Heights Meat Market Grill parking lot last year that attracted about 3,000 people.
“Last year’s pop-up festival was proof that there was a demand for such an event in our community,” Chami said. “The demand motivated me to put on one of the greatest events this city has seen. This is my way of giving back to my community. Creating such platform to bring the community together during one of the holiest months has been a blessing.”
Fast forward to this year where almost 10,000 attended the first weekend of the festival May 10 and 11 during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
During the month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and have their last meal — suhoor — before the sun rises. The festival follows the breaking of fast and ends just before suhoor time does, starting at 11:45 p.m. and ending at 4 a.m. every Friday and Saturday through June 1.
Chami said one of goals for this festival was giving families a safe place to hang out in the late hours of the night during suhoor, while being away from residential areas to respect those who are asleep during that time.
The other two goals are, “creating a platform for unities both within the Muslim communities and non-Muslim communities,” Chami said. “There are many Muslims outside of Dearborn who do not have the resources we have in Dearborn. This allows us to bridge the gap between our communities.”
Also, “There are many non-Muslims who can attend this event, enjoy amazing food, and get to know their Muslim neighbors.”
Of the 27 vendors, 22 are food and five are merchandise, creating a variation for attendees. Some of the food and dessert vendors are Beavertails, Coco Shack, Fluff Stuff, LaFork, San Bakery, Smiley’s Halal Hot Diggity Dogs, Tornado Potato and Chimmi Churro.
The merchandise vendors include AHB Trends, Handmade by Hano and Printcitee.
Also new this year is an exhibit on the Quran — the holy book of Islam — where four to five reciters rotate throughout the night reciting Quran.
“As much fun as we are having, we must not forget what this month is all about,” Chami said. “Incorporating the Quran tent allows me to infuse the Islamic spirit into the festival. We also have Quran and Hadith posters hanging on the light poles.”
One of the food vendors, Saj Bakery, 25857 Ford Road, joined to give customers the opportunity to be proud of the festival and community involvement, co-owner Ahmad Yassin said.
“We serve mainly mana’eesh at the festival, including cheese and zaatar made on the spot,” Yassin said. “I was surprised at our long line because during suhoor, people want to eat desserts, but the response has been amazing so far.”
One of those dessert vendors is FluffStuff, where Ali Kassab and Ahmed Saad offer loose cotton candy and an ice cream-inside-cotton-candy creation in a bowl.
“We joined the festival after Chami contacted us to do something for our community and get our name out there,” Kassab said. “The idea for our dessert came from our desire to do something creative with food that no one has done before.”
On the more healthy side is Juicer’s Connect operated by Mohammad Taleb who joined the festival after Chami reached out to him three months ago.
“I thought the festival was a kind and nice way to try to bring the community and different cultures together because everyone is welcome to attend,” Taleb said. “It’s been great and fun to have my stand at the festival which is also bringing me new customers.
Taleb offers fruit cocktails made with fresh cut fruit and a strawberry-based smoothie inside a cup made from a pineapple or watermelon.
Vendors at the festival were selected on a first come, first served basis, Chami said.
“Those who paid their deposits saved their spot on the list,” he said. “This is a community event and I believe this was a very fair approach. The only requirements were some type of restaurant or vendor experience.”
The festival’s budget for 2019 is $50,000 which includes a flat fee paid by vendors to be part of the festival. That money t
hen goes to cover the festival’s expenses, including the buildout.
There is no admission fee and remaining profits will be donated to the Dearborn Heights-based non-profit Amity Foundation.
The City Council supported the festival during a meeting last month where Council members Dave Abdallah and Lisa Hicks-Clayton said they were excited for what the festival could bring to the city and attendees.
Some of the sponsors of the 2019 festival included Hype, HealthyPro Pharmacy — of which Chami is a co-owner, Dakroub Group, Venture Title Agency and Helping Hand USA.
Chami said future plans for the festival are already in place with a five-year plan drawn out for the community and approval for most of it already.
For more information and updates on the Ramadan Suhoor Festival follow their Instagram page, @ramadanfoodfestival.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)