When Amir Tatari moved to the United States from Syria in the late 1980s, his first job was working at a Dunkin’ Donuts on Thayer Street. Now, over 30 years later, he is set to open the restaurant Abu Yarub Al-Shami on the very same street.
Tatari expects to host a “soft open” for the restaurant in the coming weeks. Located at 225 Thayer, it will serve a variety of authentic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes, including shawarma, falafel and Arab sweets, as well as a rainbow of soft-serve ice cream flavors like pistachio nut, amaretto, German chocolate and more.
The Herald spoke to Amir Tatari as well as his three daughters, Ayia Tatari, Tassen Tatari and Salaa Tatari, about the upcoming opening of the restaurant and their journey thus far.
Amir Tatari had long hoped to secure a location for a restaurant on Thayer, but there had not been any vacancies until this last year. “I was looking everywhere. I would drive by (Thayer Street) just to see which spaces were available, if any restaurants had closed,” Amir Tatari said. “I just always wanted to put my foot on Thayer Street.”
After his stint at Dunkin’ Donuts, Amir Tatari attended Johnson & Wales University and received an associate degree in the culinary arts and a bachelor’s in restaurant management. Since then, he has worked at several restaurants including El Laham in Cranston.
Amir Tatari said he was eager for the opportunity to serve Brown students, and feels lucky to have the help of his daughters. Ayia Tatari, a rising senior at Cranston High School West, helped design the menus, business cards and social media for the restaurant. She’ll be working the cash register after the grand opening for Abu Yarub Al-Shami, the date for which has not been set.
Both Amir Tatari and Ayia Tatari heralded the diversity of Brown’s student body, and said they feel that students will gladly try their authentic Syrian dishes.
“We see the diversity on Thayer Street, which is another thing that encouraged us to open a Middle Eastern place. People here are open to trying new things,” Ayia Tatari said. “This is real authentic Middle Eastern food. Both of my parents were born in Syria and raised there.”
Fifteen-year-old Tassen Tatari will also be helping out in the restaurant, and said she was looking forward to trying all the dishes on the menu.
Salaa Tatari, at eight years old, told her teachers about the grand opening and said she was most excited about the 24 flavors of ice cream the shop will be selling — and eating each one herself.
Cooking has always been a passion of the Tatari family, both in the United States and in Syria. Amir Tatari explained that he cooked for many years while he grew up and lived there, and that his brothers were in the restaurant industry as well. “My whole family cooked in Syria. All my brothers cooked, and had a huge restaurant with the same name — Al Shami,” Amir Tatari said.
Preserving genuine Syrian flavor is important for the Tatari family. “I was talking with my pre-calc teacher, and she was saying how with the baklava (at other restaurants), people put chocolate on it,” Ayia Tatari said. “That is crazy for us. We don’t put chocolate or anything on it.”
Being able to bring a taste of home to College Hill is rewarding, especially after trying for so many years to acquire a space on Thayer, Amir Tatari said.
Prior to Abu Yarub Al-Shami, 225 Thayer was occupied by Pie in the Sky, which closed amid the pandemic after 27 years on College Hill, The Herald previously reported.
Despite the pandemic making space available, troubles with licensing and delays related to COVID-19 made preparations for Abu Yarub Al-Shami grind to a halt last year. “It put me back almost six months,” Amir Tatari said. “I have had the store since the first of November when I signed the lease.”
With rising vaccination rates throughout Rhode Island and the country, Amir Tatari expects that people will be eager to go out to eat again — especially on Thayer, he said, which uniquely attracts pedestrians.
After waiting so long to make his restaurant a reality, Amir Tatari was thrilled to be able to open the storefront. “We are excited to add another flavor to Thayer street.”
Katy Pickens is the managing editor of newsroom and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously served as a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism, all while maintaining a passion for knitting tiny hats.