Man Works To Preserve His Brother's Restaurant Dreams (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Man Works To Preserve His Brother's Restaurant Dreams

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Our next story takes us from the Maryland suburbs to D.C.'s Palisades's neighborhood. That's where right on MacArthur Boulevard you'll find Figs Mediterranean Cafe. Two years ago Abdulkader Niori bought Figs. Hailing from Eritrea in East Africa, he'd worked his way up the restaurant industry ladder and had been dreaming of running an eatery of his own.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:23
But a few months after achieving that dream, Niori suffered a heart attack and died. Many regulars at Figs expected that would be it for the restaurant. But as Tara Boyle tells us, thanks to Niori's younger brother, Saud, that's hardly the case.

MS. TARA BOYLE

00:00:40
The first time you walk into Figs Mediterranean Café, Saud Niori will greet you like you're his very best customer, like, he hasn't seen in a while and he's glad you're back.

MS. TARA BOYLE

00:00:51
So nice to meet you.

MR. SAUD NIORI

00:00:51
Nice to meet you.

BOYLE

00:00:52
Thank you for having me, especially during the lunch rush.

BOYLE

00:00:55
His immediate concern is to figure out what you want for lunch.

NIORI

00:00:59
We've got the fattoush salad, the cucumber citrus salad, they have the beet salad over here.

BOYLE

00:01:04
Which is your favorite?

NIORI

00:01:05
My favorite is the curried chickpeas, which is a little spicy. It's fantastic.

BOYLE

00:01:11
A bit later I dig into some of those curried chickpeas which are as advertised, a little spicy. But first Saud and I grab a table to talk. He wants to tell me about his older brother, Abdu. They first met in 1994 here in the U.S. not in their native Eritrea.

NIORI

00:01:28
When I was born he had already left. It was a big, big shock because many meeting a new brother in a different country and seeing him all grown up all of a sudden, you have to start over again, you know.

BOYLE

00:01:46
Abdu convinced his younger brother, who was then a teenager, to stay in the U.S. and start all over with him here in the D.C. area.

NIORI

00:01:53
And I started going to school and I was working with him at the restaurant that he was a chef at which was La Bistra Verna (sp?).

BOYLE

00:02:02
The brothers spent years in the restaurant industry. By 2011, Abdu wanted to take the next step and buy his own place.

NIORI

00:02:09
He was ready. He was ready to do something different.

BOYLE

00:02:13
That August Abdu brought Saud to Figs and basically said, "Surprise, I own this." Abdu was now his own boss and he had big plans for his restaurant.

NIORI

00:02:22
He was telling me that he was going to have to make a lot of changes because the previous owner, the customer service was not as good. Let's just put it that way. And so it was hard to change, to bring all the people back.

BOYLE

00:02:38
And Saud says his brother was making great progress in bringing the neighborhood back to Figs. But then, in January 2012 Abdu died unexpectedly.

NIORI

00:02:48
I remember it like it was yesterday.

BOYLE

00:02:50
It was a Tuesday morning. Abdu took his kids to school and then went to the gym. While he was working out he had a heart attack.

NIORI

00:02:58
And they put him in an ambulance, well it was in an ambulance, that's when he died.

BOYLE

00:03:03
At first, Saud says, he didn't know what to do.

NIORI

00:03:06
You know, he was like a father, a brother, a friend, everything to us, you know. He was the oldest, I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what's next.

MS. JENNY PIERSON

00:03:17
It just the most unimaginable tragedy and everyone in the neighborhood presumed that was the end of Figs.

BOYLE

00:03:23
Jenny Pierson is a Palisades resident and Figs regular. She arrived at the restaurant the day Abdu died to find chef, Khadija Banouas and another staffer, in tears.

PIERSON

00:03:33
You know, we all die. But we don't generally expect people to die suddenly and we don't expect people in their 40s to die suddenly and Khadija kept stressing that day, you know, Abdu seemed fine.

BOYLE

00:03:44
Saud didn't have much time to adjust to the shock of his brother's death. He knew almost immediately what he had to do. His family, including his sister-in-law and his brother's five children, needed him to step up and take over the restaurant.

NIORI

00:03:58
I was looking at his kids and his wife and everybody else and I mean, they don't have anybody else but us.

BOYLE

00:04:14
Keeping Figs open and thriving means long, long hours at work and not just for Saud. Khadija makes all of the restaurant's food from scratch each day, which means arriving as early as 6:00 a.m.

BOYLE

00:04:26
Right now she's chopping big bunches of cilantro in Figs' tiny kitchen.

MS. KHADIJA BANOUAS

00:04:30
This is for (word?) and for (word?) and for (unintelligible) turkey.

BOYLE

00:04:39
Do you use a lot of cilantro?

BANOUAS

00:04:40
A lot of cilantro, a lot of fresh garlic, a lot of fresh lemon.

BOYLE

00:04:44
Khadija says she's been happy to work for Saud and for his brother before him.

BANOUAS

00:04:49
I like Saud, I like everybody. It's nice people for me.

BOYLE

00:04:51
Saud shares Khadija's devotion to Figs but coming here to this place that meant so much to his big brother is sometimes difficult. Each day, he looks at pictures of Abdu tacked up next to the cash register and updates his brother on the restaurant's progress.

NIORI

00:05:08
I just look at it and say, "Hey, this was the sale last night, you know. We did this much." And just try to keep him updated on what's going on, I guess.

BOYLE

00:05:19
Abdu may be gone, Saud says, but he's determined to keep his brother's dream alive. I'm Tara Boyle.
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