When El Harissa Market Café opens on N. Maple in March, owners Khaled Houamed and Susan Thomas plan for it to be more than just a North African grocery market, and more than a Tunisian café.
"It's going to be sort of a gourmet space and a creative space," says Houamed. "We want to be a hangout space. I want people to come here and drink Arabic Coffee and drink mint tea. Our aim is to have people come and sit and talk to us."
And not just those who already know and love North African cuisine. The couple hopes to attract a wide demographic of local patrons and introduce them to Tunisian food.
The 2,200 square foot business is sure to be as unique as its owners. Opening El Harissa is a significant career change for Houamed, a former professor of pharmacology at the University of Chicago and University of Michigan
and Thomas, a former schoolteacher. With their son off to college and their daughter is soon to follow, they decided it was the perfect time to pursue their dream.
"We talked about this for so long and we decided it was now or never," says Thomas. "We're ready to put our heart and soul into it."
Houamed will be bringing the culture from his home country of Tunisia to El Harissa, including the knowledge of olives he acquired from his long family history in olive farming, and an appreciation for those who will produce all of their North African specialty foods.
"We're trying to connect with small farmers in North Africa," he says. "We want to enhance our relationship with the farmers."
In addition to the specialty grocery items, El Harissa will serve a variety of prepared foods for dine-in customers, including homemade soups, ice cream in the summer, and plenty of foods with the popular Tunisian hot sauce called el harissa. Thomas and Houamed plan to open with four to five employees and hope to eventually add catering and delivery services.
Source: Khaled Houamed and Susan Thomas
Writer: Natalie Burg, Development News Editor