Local doctor, Syrian refugee team up to bring taste of Middle East to WB

By Kulsoom Khan - For Times Leader
Ahmad Alrafae, 32, of Wilkes-Barre, center, plays an instrument while others dance in traditional Syrian clothing to mark the grand opening of Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday. Tazza means ‘fresh’ in Arabic. The eatery is located at 10 W. Northampton St. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Mahmmod Mustafa, of Wilkes-Barre, sings while dressed in traditional Syrian clothing during the grand opening of Tazza Middle Eastern restaurant in Wilkes-Barre. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Mahmmod Mustafa, center right, helps Samh Lababneh, 19, of Clifton, N.J., put on his ceremonial clothing at Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre. - Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Cook Rabie Kashkoush, 24, of Scranton, originally from Daraa, Syria, makes gyros during the grand opening of Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre. - - Sean McKeag | Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — It’s no secret that pizza and pierogies dominate the local food scene. However, as the area’s ethnic diversity has increased over the past several years, food choices have as well.

Tazza Shawarma Grill, located at 10 W. Northampton St. in the heart of downtown, is a perfect example of that. The recently opened eatery offers a wide variety of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine — most notably Shawarma (roasted meat) and gyros.

Besides Shawarma, Tazza, which means “fresh” in Arabic, also serves up other traditional dishes that are popular in the Middle East such as Tabbouleh, Baba Ganoush, falafel and Kenafeh, a cheese pastry that is dipped in a sweet syrup and topped with chopped pistachios.

“It’s all made from scratch,” said Dr. Ibrahim Almeky proudly.

Almeky, who resides in Shavertown, and friend Mohammad Allouz ,of Kingston, started making plans to open the business more than a year ago. Allouz moved to the area in 2015 with his parents, three brothers, and his sister from Jordan. The family left its native Syria in 2012 to escape that country’s ongoing civil war.

Almeky helped the Allouzes resettle when they first arrived, offering advice and guidance on how to adjust to life in the United States. He has a family practice and urgent care clinic in Kingston, which he started after immigrating to the area 40 years ago from Egypt. Even though Almeky has never run a restaurant before, he enjoys cooking and wants to share Middle Eastern values and culture with the community through food.

“It (food) breaks barriers,” he said. “The more you get exposed to the people and culture, the more you realize that as a human, it is good to integrate culture.”

Allouz also grew up with a passion for cooking, which is still a family-bonding experience in his home. He admits his father first expressed his wish for him to become a doctor, but then later encouraged him to follow his heart.

“This is my dream,” Allouz said about owning his own restaurant. “I’m very, very happy.”

Even though he came to the United States as a refugee only three years ago with limited resources and English skills, Allouz is glad that he has managed not only to find work, but has also opened a business doing something he loves.

“My dream is to not stop here,” Allouz said while taking a break from working in the kitchen. He would like to open more restaurants in the future. Almeky also said there is a possibility of expanding the business to other parts of Luzerne County if Tazza does indeed prove to be a success.

Saturday’s grand opening featured traditional Arabic music and dance. Visitors also had the opportunity to sample some of Tazza’s sweets.

Ahmad Alrafae, 32, of Wilkes-Barre, center, plays an instrument while others dance in traditional Syrian clothing to mark the grand opening of Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday. Tazza means ‘fresh’ in Arabic. The eatery is located at 10 W. Northampton St.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL050618Tazza1-4.jpgAhmad Alrafae, 32, of Wilkes-Barre, center, plays an instrument while others dance in traditional Syrian clothing to mark the grand opening of Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday. Tazza means ‘fresh’ in Arabic. The eatery is located at 10 W. Northampton St. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

Mahmmod Mustafa, of Wilkes-Barre, sings while dressed in traditional Syrian clothing during the grand opening of Tazza Middle Eastern restaurant in Wilkes-Barre.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL050618Tazza3-4.jpgMahmmod Mustafa, of Wilkes-Barre, sings while dressed in traditional Syrian clothing during the grand opening of Tazza Middle Eastern restaurant in Wilkes-Barre. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

Mahmmod Mustafa, center right, helps Samh Lababneh, 19, of Clifton, N.J., put on his ceremonial clothing at Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL050618Tazza4-4.jpgMahmmod Mustafa, center right, helps Samh Lababneh, 19, of Clifton, N.J., put on his ceremonial clothing at Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre. Sean McKeag | Times Leader

Cook Rabie Kashkoush, 24, of Scranton, originally from Daraa, Syria, makes gyros during the grand opening of Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_TTL050618Tazza2-4.jpgCook Rabie Kashkoush, 24, of Scranton, originally from Daraa, Syria, makes gyros during the grand opening of Tazza restaurant in Wilkes-Barre. Sean McKeag | Times Leader
Downtown eatery holds grand opening

By Kulsoom Khan

For Times Leader