In Palestine, Jamil Kadoura, owner and guiding spirit of the Mediterranean Deli, would not be called Jamil. Traditionally, once a Palestinian man has a son, he’s usually called by his son’s name, with the prefix “Abu,” which translates to “father of.” Jamil and his wife, Angela, have three children: two daughters and a son, Zidane. So technically, Jamil’s name is Abu Zidane.
He has another name, too. In one of those terms of endearment expressed by a loving family, growing up in Jerusalem, Jamil’s mother called him Abu Iieta, which means “Father of Giving.”
His mother recognized and encouraged her son’s desire to help others. His empathy drew him to those in need like a spiritual magnet and food was often his way of connecting with those in need.
His mother approved and would often tell him: “When you give, it’s as if you are throwing it in the ocean: it always comes back to you.” He took it to heart.
Since 1991, Mediterranean Deli has been a Chapel Hill institution, in a way that feels like it’s never not been here.
Even by Franklin Street’s high standards, the “Med Deli” qualifies as a top establishment for residents and tourists alike. The food is plentiful, and it is very good. Its deli case, which goes on and on and on like a glassed-in cornucopia, is filled with a little bit of everything: colorful and tasty options from peach salad drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh balls of mozzarella, to hearts of palm salad, chicken salad, fennel, tabouli, and grape leaves.
But there’s something more: an ineffable and delicious spirit of friendliness and warmth – of love.
Rabbi John Friedman, Judea Reform Congregation in Durham, said it best: “Jamil has always been there for us and it’s important that we help in the best ways that we can.”
Kadoura is indeed known as the father of giving. He’s donated a percentage of his profits to earthquake victims in Turkey, and held a silent auction and buffet for Syrian refugees. As a Palestinian from Jerusalem whose family was displaced in the Six Days Wars, and spent weeks in a Red Cross camp, Kadoura’s restaurant style reflects his peripatetic life, spreading culture through food and teaching compassion by example.
Jamil has always held on to the belief that food is the most important connection in the community. And now the greater Chapel Hill people hope the community will give back.
On Saturday July 22, Mediterranean Deli, Bakery and Catering suffered extensive damage in a fire.
To date, over $200,000 has been raised through a GoFundMe page set up for Med Deli employees. The restaurant fire has resulted in a total loss. Demolition and rebuilding will be necessary.
“We just have to be a family and stay strong,” Kadoura said last Monday before meeting with employees in the former Elaine’s restaurant building at 454 W. Franklin St. He plans to reopen Med Deli’s catering business in that building, which he also owns, he said, but the kitchen is too small to also serve dine-in customers. Jamil said Med deli has approximately 70 employees.
“The average employee here has been here for over 10 years,” Jamil says. “They know my kids. I know their kids . . . We’re not just like family. We are family.”
Because family members rely on each other for emotional, physical, and economic support, the Chapel Hill community is busy doing what it is best known for: giving back. Chapel Hill has a remarkable legacy of generosity. Together, as a family, we will help Med Deli rise from the ashes like a phoenix.
How to Give
Chapel Hill leaders are working with Med Deli and the businesses impacted by the fire (Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Simply Audrey, Moshi Moshi and D.B. Sutton & Co.) to get them back on stable footing.
“Our Franklin Street restaurants are open, and I hope you will continue to enjoy the atmosphere and food on West Franklin Street while we are closed. Many people are employed by restaurants, and they depend on customers like you to help them stay open and provide good food,” said Jamil.
The GoFundMe page for the Mediterranean Deli can be found here.
Have no doubt: Med Deli will be back. Chapel Hill and a community of customers far and wide would never let it disappear. Soon there will be an option to buy a gift card on their website, catering will resume, and slowly but surely Jamil’s creation will return. This is a time of crisis, to be sure. But it’s also an opportunity to prove our great friendship, love, and support for Jamil: we are, after all, family.
Laurie Paolicelli is executive director for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. Laurie has worked in tourism and marketing for twenty-five years, having served in leadership roles in Houston and California convention and visitor bureaus. She is a native of the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN/Superior Wisconsin. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Communications from the University Wisconsin-Superior and graduate certification in Technology In Marketing from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.