SFGate (Interview)
March 4, 2013 - 1:00am

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, anti-Muslim sentiment peaked in the United States. Instead of retreating, Palestinian immigrants Fayza and Naime Ayyad built a bridge. They opened Zaki Kabob House ( www.zakikabobhouse.com), a Middle Eastern restaurant in Albany.

Fayza, 50, and Naime, 56, live in El Cerrito and have two sons, two daughters and one deceased son. Fayza spoke at her restaurant, where she was joined by their oldest child, Ramzy, 30.

Fayza: To be honest with you, the reason we opened the restaurant is the media. During the Persian Gulf War and after September 11, the media treated us like we are nothing. Anything happens, the first thing is we are the target.

I wanted people to know, we are human beings. Every culture have the good and the bad. Every house they have the good and the bad. Every community. When we open the restaurant, I try to teach our customers about us through our food.

We had no experience whatsoever with operating a restaurant. None. We just pray to God the customer like the food. And the first day we cooked the food, the customer like it and came back.

Ramzy: The restaurant business is tough. If you have an off night, you're probably going to have customers who won't come back again. So you have to make little or no mistakes. And that creates a lot of stress on everybody.

Fayza: At first me and my husband, we were doing the cooking. There was a lot of yelling. I like things in a calm way, and he has a very loud voice. So we compromise. One time my way and one time his way.

We try to keep it truly Middle Eastern. The old recipes my mother and grandmother used. But you add a little bit to make it presentable for the people. Keep it both old and new.

The first thing when we open this restaurant I said, "No alcohol." In our religion, we're not allowed to drink alcohol. Many Muslims do. But we're not allowed to drink alcohol or sell alcohol. We're not even allowed to touch the alcohol.

A lot of people we know, they wanted to bring in a belly dancer. I said, "No way." I have nothing against it, but that's not how I wanted it to be.

I was born in Palestine in 1963. (In 1967), we were refugees because of Six Day War. We were walking on foot and had to cross the Jordan River. We were very hungry, eating grass. My dad was carrying me and my brother, and my other brother was on his back. I was 4 years old, but I remember everything.

Ramzy: They walked in 100-degree heat. Stepping over dead bodies. They were turned back by the Jordanians and had to return to Palestine on foot.

Fayza: I came here in 1981. My husband was already living here from 1979, but he went back to Palestine to get married. He's my cousin, but at that time I don't know him, and he doesn't know me because we live in two different cities.

Ramzy: In 1983, after I was born, we moved from San Francisco to El Cerrito. My father opened a meat market in Berkeley, but he had a heart attack (and stopped working) in 2006. In 2010, my brother Asama was tragically murdered in Richmond, while waiting for a streetlight. A case of mistaken identity.

Fayza: He was two months before his 21st birthday. The first thing you notice about Asama is his smile. He has such a beautiful smile. Yes, our family has a lot of sadness. But we trying, you know. Trying to keep standing on our feet.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017