Immigrants have always discovered, then defined, Northeast Minneapolis. Still, in a neighborhood that boasts of its ethnic heritage, Majdi Wadi is mythic. For more than 15 years Northeast residents have flocked to his Holy Land bakery and deli on Central near Lowry for hummus, cheese, olives, dates, nuts, pita, olive oil, and an array of delicacies, unknown to many locals, but treasured fare for the Muslim community.
During this same era, the growing Muslim community basked in the warm welcome shared by multi-generations of the Wadi family. Any doubts about Wadi’s role in the community disappeared when, after the 9/11 attacks, Holy Land experienced overflowing expressions of support including the busiest day in their history on September 12, accompanied by an avalanche of greetings, flowers, children’s art, and embraces. It was a turning point for Wadi, a Palestinian Muslim who grew up in Kuwait and immigrated to the United States from Jordan in 1994.
Wadi is still running the show at the Holy Land, even as the enterprise has grown exponentially. At the same time, Wadi is a major player in the development of Central Avenue. For mere mortals all this might be enough – but not for Wadi. John Vaughn, former executive of the Northeast Community Development Corporation, calls Majdi Wadi a “one-man small-business incubator.”
The Holy Land brand is now a household word. Shoppers find Holy Land products not just in Northeast but as a recognized – and appreciated – anchor tenant at Midtown Global Market. Holy Land products grace grocery shelves everyway – at Cub Foods, Lunds, The Wedge, Kowalski’s, Whole Foods, Byerly’s, and more each day.
Holy Land is now the biggest hummus producer in the United States. And, if that’s not enough, Rachael Ray named Holy Land Jalapeño Hummus the “Best Spicy Hummus” in the nation.
Holy Land is itself a destination – check the noon traffic at the buffet! In September 2009 the grocery/deli expanded to breathe life into one adjacent and another nearby storefront. The community cheered the expansion of Holy Land – and the demise of the previous tenant businesses. Wadi overpaid for the property, in part because the owner of the seedy bar next door demanded that he include the liquor license – which Wadi said that he “destroyed and did not use because of my personal and religious beliefs.”
The walls of the brightly refurbished Holy Land reflect Wadi’s impact on the community. Prominent on them is a resolution from the City of Minneapolis, presented by Mayor R.T. Rybak, to honor Wadi and Holy Land for “significant and outstanding contributions to the city of Minneapolis.” Wadi was also the first Arab American to win the Thomas Carvel Immigrant Entrepreneur Award, conferred in 2008 at a major event in Washington, DC.
Still on Wadi’s agenda is a commitment to create affordable housing for neighbors in Northeast. He has sold prime property to a developer that is currently building a 32-unit low income apartment building on Lowry, just a few steps from the Holy Land.
CORRECTION 6/4/2010: John Vaughan as former, not current, executive of NEDC.