Ibrahim AlNashashibi, of Fairouz Cafe & Gallery in the Midway District, has had to downsize and change his restaurant’s business model to survive post-pandemic.
The restaurateur, who is also an artist, poet, and author, has now combined his art gallery and restaurant at 3166 Midway Drive into one room while changing from buffet service to ordering from a traditional menu.
“I didn’t mean to cancel the buffet – I had to,” said AlNashashibi, who’s operated Fairouz for 37 years. “We were closed for 2 ½ months at the beginning of the pandemic, and then we were not allowed to seat people inside, just outside with take-out orders. We didn’t have enough business for the buffet, so we had to close it.”
In downtime during the pandemic, Fairouz’s owner was busy repainting and reconfiguring his smaller space. He also praised the contribution made by San Diego interior designer Jessie Medina of Medina Designs, who is a customer and now a major contributor to Fairouz’s redesign.
“She showed interest in my paintings, she likes them, and I chose her because she knows about art,” noted AlNashashibi. “She is really talented.”
Of his establishment, AlNashashibi said: “It is not my business. It is my life. It is my destiny. We almost live here. I cannot see myself not working.”
The restaurateur is surrounded by family members, some of whom are not only supportive but are also employed by him.
On their website, it is noted that the AlNashashibi family welcomes guests to Fairouz “where your palate and soul will be enriched through fine Mediterranean food and universal Art. Fairouz is a place that delivers healthy food from old recipes, which have withstood the test of time.
“Our recipes use fresh ingredients blended with exquisite spices to enhance taste, nurture health, and are always prepared with love. A daily fresh feast of delectable dishes for vegans and vegetarians, and succulent meat dishes are waiting to be shared with our friends whom we love dearly. Welcome home.”
Named for a famous Lebanese singer, Fairouz means breathtaking turquoise stone in Arabic. The menu offers a bounty of international cuisine options including Greek, Lebanese, Spanish, French and Italian fare. This seems entirely appropriate given AlNashashibi is truly international, as he was born in Jerusalem and got his law degree in Lebanon before settling in San Diego.
AlNashashibi’s family’s roots date back centuries and include poets, writers, and politicians — even one religious leader, Ibrahim’s great-grandfather prince Nasser Aldeen AlNashashibi. He earned his law degree in 1972 in Beirut, then practiced law in the Gulf until 1986, before marrying and coming to San Diego.
AlNashashibi shows his own work as well as other local artists in his restaurant/art gallery. After his second wife died of cancer, he penned a poetry book, “Written With Colors Drawn With Words,” memorializing her. He’s written another poetry book and a novel titled “Love Is All You Need,” loosely based on his life experiences.
Customers are much more than that at Fairouz. Said AlNashishibi, “If somebody comes here the first time, they’re a customer. If they come back again, they’re a friend. But after 10 times, they become a family member.”
AlNashashibi said he has had three types of customers.
“Those who came for the buffet to get a good deal, but there is no longer a buffet, so they didn’t come back,” he said. “Then there are those who came back because they like our food, so we didn’t lose them. And there are those who came back with their kids and families because they’ve ‘lived’ with us, and still support us. Now we have more time to take better care of our friends.”
Fairouz Cafe & Gallery
Where: 3166 Midway Drive.
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.