A taste of Palestine on Como Avenue

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The long, white, two-story building at the corner of Como and Raymond is over 100 years old. In the past, it has contained a plumber’s shop, lawyer’s office, grocery store, video rental shop and beauty parlor.

The building is now owned by Bishara Ailabouni and is the home of Abu Nader Deli and Grocery, owned and operated by Ailabouni and his wife, Izabelle. The southeast corner of the building houses Elle Salon, a hair salon.

Back in 1978, Ailabouni rented a portion of the building and ran the Como Country Boy grocery store until 1981.

He came back to look at the building in 1999 but wasn’t happy with the rental terms. The property manager suggested he make an offer to purchase the building. He did, and it was accepted.

The building was empty, except for the beauty shop, and the first floor had been opened up so that all the area to the west of the beauty shop was one space. Ailabouni discovered that the renovators had removed a supporting wall and left the upper floor supported by one long two-by-four. There are three apartments above the commercial space, so that problem had to be fixed immediately.

Ailabouni hired a contractor to put in proper supports for the upper floor before completing remodeling for his deli and store.

His plan was to start the grocery and deli as a family business, involving himself, Izabelle and their two sons. But that plan only lasted for a few weeks. The Pioneer Press did a story on the place and business took off.

His plan for a small family business was also complicated by the fact that Izabelle Ailabouni is a pharmacist at Wal-Mart and Regions Hospital. She was to be the main cook, preparing food early in the day and then going off to her other career. But the volume of business, said Bishara, required him to learn how to cook.

He usually has five part-time employees, besides his family. “But I’m down to two right now,” he said. “So, if you know anybody who’s looking for a part-time job . . .”

Ailabouni said their emphasis is on the quality of the food they offer: “We don’t sell anything we don’t eat ourselves.”

Besides the article in the Pioneer Press, the deli has been featured in Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine and, nationally, in Gourmet Magazine.

When Ailabouni was considering a name for his deli and grocery, people suggested he call it something traditional, something based on his Palestinian roots. He explained that “Abu” means father, and Nader is the name of his oldest son, so the name of the store means “father of Nader.” “That’s me!” he said proudly.

Besides carryout business and serving customers at tables in the deli, Abu Nader does catering for graduation parties and for meetings at places like the University of Minnesota and Roseville School District offices.

Ailabouni expressed ambivalence about the prospect of a fast-food restaurant at the BP station across the street. “First there was going to be a Subway, then not. First there were going to be zoning changes, then not,” he said.

Having a Subway restaurant, he noted, “would mean more hungry people on the corner. Maybe they would look over here and say, ‘Oh, there’s Abu Nader. Let’s go there.’”

But he expressed concern about the impact of such a store on the neighborhood, especially increased automobile traffic. He’s worried about kids trying to cross the street at the busy Como-Raymond intersection.

“They don’t even have school patrols there anymore,” he said. “I think it’s very dangerous.”

There has been a beauty shop in the southeast corner of the building for many years. Since 2002 it has been Elle Salon, owned and operated by Christine Wengler. She said it would have been great to have a Subway across the street — convenient access to a healthy food choice. She said it would also give her shop exposure to more potential customers.

Ailabouni said he’s doing as much business as he can, considering the parking space he has.

After his first year of operation, he thought business would slack off during the State Fair, and he planned to take a vacation during that time the next year. But business was even better than the year before and continues to improve from year to year. He said some people come in during the State Fair because they remember the food from previous years.

Ailabouni said his plan for the near future is to stay put and see what happens around him. Traffic is increasing, which could affect parking for his customers. He wants to wait to see what happens with the gas station across the street.

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