(Editor’s note: Dearborn Restaurant Week returns to the city for a 10-day affair March 3 to 12. This year’s event could prove to be bigger and better than ever as organizers have expanded the field to include the entire city, rather than limiting participants to Dearborn’s east and west downtowns. Participating businesses will be offering their own prix-fixed menus priced at $15, $25, and $40, and perhaps other specials, too. Check in with the Dearborn Restaurant Week social media pages and website for all the latest updates on participating restaurants, special menu items, deals, and more.
In Part One of Metromode Media’s Dearborn Restaurant Week coverage, we check in with two new restaurants that will be participating for the first time in this year’s event. They also happen to be neighbors.)
By M.J. GALBRAITH
DEARBORN — On Valentine’s Day, Imad Mohamad looked out onto the floor of his recently opened cafe and saw a packed house.
And while Mohamad’s authentic Turkish food and beverages no doubt had a part to play, it also had something to do with his declaration that all sales on Valentine’s Day, from 4 to 10 p.m., would be donated to a Turkish Earthquake Relief Fundraiser. More than $6,000 was raised that day, and donations are still being accepted online through a GoFundMe fundraising campaign.
The devastation that the recent earthquake has brought to Turkey and neighboring Syria – current death toll estimates hover above 41,000 people and continue to rise – have shocked the world. For those of Turkish and Syrian backgrounds, of course, the tragedy is exponentially heartbreaking.
For his part, Mohamad plans to host additional fundraisers with various partners in the city to keep raising money to send back as a valentine, of sorts, to the place he so deeply reveres, his ancestral home of Turkey.
Mohamad opened Galata Sweets in downtown west Dearborn last October. In the short time that they’ve been open, the cafe, bakery, and breakfast spot has become a destination for the Turkish diaspora, drawing customers from not only metropolitan Detroit but the Great Lakes region as a whole.
Even in Dearborn, a place famous for its significant population of various Arabic and Middle Eastern communities, Turkish coffee shops and restaurants aren’t as easily found as, say, Lebanese and Yemeni ones. That makes Galata Sweets and, in turn, downtown west Dearborn, even more of a destination than it already was.
Galata Sweets is, he attests, the only full-concept Turkish restaurant in the state.
“Being here is very healthy and beneficial for everybody in Dearborn because we’re bringing new visitors to the city,” Mohamad says. “Maybe 75 percent of my customers are not from Dearborn but traveling from Sterling Heights, Canton, Novi, and Ohio and Canada. They’re coming from far away.”
Step into Galata Sweets and it’s easy to see why. Imad has spared no expense in outfitting his cafe with authentic touches of home, from the traditional vests and fez hats, or tarboosh, that adorn the tables and made available to wear, to the beautiful light fixtures throughout that were imported straight from Turkey.
And then there is, of course, the menu. Galata Sweets specializes in Turkish breakfast, coffee, and desserts, freshly made and often with ingredients imported straight from the homeland.
Mohamad’s roots run so deep that it seems like every item on the menu has a personal story, like the Kurdish coffee, or Kürt Kahvesi, which comes in pistachio, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors and originates in Mardin, the southern Turkish city where Mohamad’s grandfather lived. A photo of his ancestral home is proudly displayed on one of the walls.
“We’re very famous for our Turkish breakfast and also the Turkish baklava,” Mohamad says. “We have a popular tres leche cake, which you have here but it’s also very famous in Turkey. And then there’s the San Sebastián cheesecake, which is very famous under the Galata Tower, where we got the name for our store.”
Galata Sweets is located at 1035 Mason St., Suite 102.
Quality over quantity
Directly adjacent to Galata Sweets is another Dearborn Restaurant Week first-timer that also happened to open this past October: Amazing Subs. While Mohamad’s more recent immigrant experience has shaped him in a way where he started Galata Sweets as an homage to his ancestral home, the ownership group of Amazing Subs represents the next generation, three men shaped as much by their parents’ immigrant experiences as they were as being children, born and raised, of east Dearborn.
Ahmed (Ed) Elmasry, Hussein Bazzi, and Moath Alshawabkeh were born and raised in east Dearborn, children of immigrants who honor their families’ traditions while also incorporating more mainstream American dishes found in Anytown, USA. What results is a Philly cheesesteak made with 100 percent halal beef, or a sub sandwich made with sojok, a spicy Lebanese sausage.
Amazing Subs has made it a priority to only use the best cuts of meat and other ingredients – their steak subs only use cuts of tenderloin, for example. Ed says they won’t budge on that, so customers can expect consistency in quality during each visit. That can mean more expensive subs than what their competitors are offering, but that’s fine with them, Elmasry says. It’s all about quality over quantity.
“When we started, we decided to go with a one-size sub at eight inches, versus the 12- or 16-inch sub. Because the bigger the bread got, the less quality there was after being toasted. So we decided to stick with just the eight-inch sub, which frankly is rubbing some people the wrong way,” Elmasry says. “They want a larger size, which I understand, but we’re simply not willing to compromise quality. We’re just not going to do it.”
Elmasry, Bazzi and Alshawabkeh have big aspirations and want to open multiple Amazing Subs locations in the future. But for now, they’re getting established in their hometown. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The three of us growing up in east Dearborn are still deeply rooted in this community and our goal is to give back to this community at some point. We want to make sure to provide a service and not just food,” Elmasry says. “We want to be able to provide a place where people can come work and feel comfortable, like a family environment.
“We’re not huge just yet, but we’re starting to grow our staff and we just want people to know that we’re real people standing behind behind our product. We want to make sure that we’re in the community and doing everything we can to give back as soon as we can. So maybe our first Restaurant Week is the first step towards that. Then we can start to really build on that, and hopefully in the near future.”
Amazing Subs is located at 1035 Mason St., Suite 101.
(This story was reprinted from Metromode Media. It also is available here.)