As an Egyptian who’s lived most of my life in the United States, I can attest to the fact that it is quite difficult to find your favorite Eastern food at any of the nearby grocery stores. This task is made exceedingly greater when you live in a suburban area like say, Virginia. When you live in Egypt, you have everything available at your fingertips, and it’s deliverable! But while in the States, particularly in an area like Virginia, the simplest Eastern foods like torchy (pickled vegetables) are nowhere to be found. This is why when you come across a place like Beirut Butcher & Grocery, you have to highlight it, glorify it, write thank you letters and be sure to tell fellow Arab ex-pats. It is like a slice of home, providing Arabs from all over a memory from back home. To learn more about this haven for both locals and ex-pats from the Middle East, we’ve sat down with Ahmed Tayseer Rebabi who told us all about the family business in addition to his views on the American dream.
Standing outside the cozy store while my mother packed everything from Samboosa to Boftek (a cut of steak), Rebabi spoke about the history of this wonderful, necessary family business, “We’ve been here for about 23 years…I started this business along with my parents and my younger brother. We started with a small shop and thank God people started coming to our place, trying out our meat and various other Lebanese foods that we make.” Due to this steady growth, Rebabi and his family felt the confidence to be able to expand and open up bigger shops around Virginia in addition to their chain restaurants.
Making a move from your home country to the States is not an easy feat, let alone starting a business, since for a lot of people it can mean starting over. But for Rebabi, that wasn’t necessarily the case, “Personally, in 1991, I had decided to come to America to explore; I had worked for a while in the same field that I used to work in back home all while getting an education. The mixing of both my education and work experience is what truly helped me, and after a while, I was able to bring my family out here,” Rebabi acknowledges his family as a pillar in the success of the business.
Rebabi went on to explain how a family business is like no other business, “A family business is quite vital; it requires dedication, patience, and hard work from all members of the family; my mom is a great cook, she had a helping hand in making the world appreciate our food and my father had vast experience in Lebanon where he owned successful, well-known chain butcheries.”
Following the butcher and chef giving momentous credit to his parents for the success of the business, he went on to explain what makes Lebanese cuisine special, “through existing Lebanese restaurants here, we’ve added something important to the West. Before, like 15 years ago, there was only pizza, burgers, fast food really. Nothing healthy. Lebanese food has added healthy alternatives to the American dining experience. With all the effort we do the food is both delicious and healthy,” he elaborated as customers rolled in and out of the store.
Not only does Beirut Butcher & Grocery provide great Lebanese food but it hosts a diverse range of customers every day, “we don’t only get Lebanese or Syrian customers; we also get various European and American shoppers. In particular Greek shoppers appreciate our meat products and support us with every holiday. This Easter, a good number of Greeks came and shopped for our meat.”
Furthermore, the store classifies itself as being home to an international market. Meaning they get shipments from a host of other Arab countries such as Egypt, Syria, and even Turkey, not just Lebanon. Though people are always coming in for their special meat cuts with secret Lebanese seasonings; they also carry torchy (pickled vegetables) which can go out of stock quickly and that’s when they’re able to swap out the brand with another producing country like Egypt.
Rebabi reflected on the store being a mutual haven for Arabs as he encountered customers from home as well as from around the Middle East. The loyalty to the shop comes as Arab customers feel at home, eating traditional food and speaking Arabic, “there’s a sense of comfort and safety getting to see fellow Arabs on the daily. It definitely makes living here easier as a sense of community has been slowly developed and I believe my business played a role in that.” The store owner hammered on the sense of belonging which is a prominent message that comes with his business.
Similar to Beirut Butcher & Grocery, the people that visit the store every day are filled with rich stories, “most people came here to Virginia with interesting stories; some came with impressive degrees that needed to do further education in order to work in the States, some faced difficulty. Some doctors had to start from point zero and now have their own private practice. Throughout the years, I have encountered various stories; the good, the bad and definitely inspirational,” Rebabi shared.
While the store is doing quite well, we had to find out if part of its success is related to it being in a suburban area; where there isn’t much competition as opposed to big metropolitan areas like Washington DC, “our store is tucked away, it’s not in a busy neighborhood. But we have customers that come driving two and four hours so they can shop from us and also we deliver to areas that are far. We provide our customers with services that make us stand out,” he said. Highlighting the unique aspects of the store, Rebabi was proud to share the progression and growth of the business and how they’ve changed with it.
The store owner went on to explain how social media and the internet have helped with putting the store on the map, “at first it was important to have a store located at a prime location, but now with social media reviews, people find you. They want to support family businesses once they see that you’re doing something different. Most of our customers come based on word of mouth. Once someone has tried out our meat or manakeesh and has liked it, they tell their friends or cousins and more people just start rolling in.”
Though Rebabi has faced success in his business journey, he had to tell some hard, honest facts when it comes to the American dream, “anticipate hardships, it’s not going to be a walk in the park. You’re not going to find money hanging on trees. You need to work for it, and the more you work, the more you’ll get out of this country of opportunities,” he said.
Oftentimes, minority groups look for ways to stay connected to their roots when they move abroad and what better way to do so than over food.
WE SAID THIS: Starting a business requires major dedication and hard work, Beirut Butcher & Grocery is a prime example of success.