Restaurant brings new flavors to western suburbs
By Connor Fogel
What was once part of “the land of the civilized kings” was home to Hayder Abdullah, Mahdi Rasheed and Firas Hashim. But after being threatened, kidnapped and held for ransom, the three men were forced to move out of the war-torn Iraq.
Following his arrival into the United States, Abdullah met Rasheed and Hashim, who were already friends from their time in Iraq where they also worked in a restaurant together.
The three men decided to open SUMER Restaurant — the first Iraqi restaurant in the Syracuse area. With Abdullah as the manager, and Rasheed and Hashim as the chefs, SUMER opened its doors on June 10.
“Iraqi and Middle Eastern people were so happy that we opened,” Abdullah said.
SUMER serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, lunch and dinner on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and it is closed on Sundays.
The owners started preparing their business in September of last year. In November, they found their spot in the Westvale Plaza, located at 2204 W Genesee St.
Fully equipped with kitchen supplies and a dining area, the location helped them with expenses when money was tight. They tried to get help from the local banks, but with not a long credit history in the U.S., and no small business experience, loans weren’t an option.
The three men negotiated for their location, used their credit cards and spent all of their savings to start the business.
“We hope that, by time, we can pay our debts and make the business grow,” Abdullah said. “We are sure that we will succeed.”
Abdullah said the food is cooked to order and prepared simply. Some of the popular dishes are the shawarma sandwiches — beef or chicken, or mixed, seasoned and grilled on skewers, then wrapped in pita bread.
The recipes are Rasheed’s secrets that he learned during his experiences in Iraq — some from his mother — Syria, and some restaurants in Syracuse. Abdullah said many of the recipes do not use many spices so people can get the real taste of the food and vegetables.
SUMER’s authentic Middle Eastern cuisine also includes salads like hummus, tabbouleh, baba ganoush and makdous; entrees like kebsa vegetables, chicken, and lamb, and baked whole and half chickens; and desserts like baklawa with pistachios and blancmange.
Abdullah said business was good during the restaurant’s first week because “people like to try new things,” and he has started to see some familiar faces come into the restaurant.
One customer came into SUMER and told Abdullah that she found out about the restaurant from her cousin who lives in Israel. Her cousin saw the restaurant’s website and Facebook page, and shared it with her within the first three days that the restaurant was open.