Omar's Living Cuisine's Take on Sugar House
June 19th, 2008
Omar Abou-Ismail has built from scratch a successful restaurant in Sugar House. Hear his opinions and ideas for the future of the Granite Block. Also, Omar's take on what a genuine counter-culture needs to be about.
|Omar Abou-Ismail making a salad|
After Utah Stories spoke to Craig Mecham about the lack of progress on the Granite Block (in our previous story), we thought we would go and get the opinions of the local merchants still residing around the Granite Block during construction. Despite wrapping up his lunch rush and busily making salads, Omar Abou-Ismail spent time talking with us about his views.
The first and obvious question we asked was about the Sugar House business district and how the project was affecting his and other businesses in the area. The biggest detriment Omar sees is loss of foot traffic on the block and how it has adversely affected shops that were geared toward attracting pedestrian shoppers rather than motorists. These shops, according to Omar, (such as Jack's Drum and Guitar and O2 Oxygen Bar) are now suffering due to the construction and demolished buildings. Omar also complained about the lack of work that Mecham has put into demonstrating to the public that the existing tenants are still in business and fully operational during construction. As for Omar, his business is doing well because he says his clientelle come from throughout the greater Salt Lake City area.
Omar's entrepreneurial success has come by a serendipitous series of events. While care taking for his father, who was dying of cancer, Omar walked into a herbal health foods store and found a niche he believed he could fill. Omar noticed the back of the store mostly vacant so he asked the owner if he could open up shop making fresh healthily food for customers. "It ended up so popular that people would just come from all over the world to have the food that I make. I would take over his whole place...People would bring me tables and chairs, I wouldn't even go out and get them...Its like it was built for me," says Omar. Click here to hear the complete podcast interview with Omar.
For Omar his restaurant is about much more than offering salads to customers. He believes his philosophy towards food and the environment he creates helps people," Its helping create a community of love and peace and consciousness. Where people are aware of their food and what they are supporting."
In talking to Omar about the nature of the development and what he hopes to see for the future of Sugar House. He doesn't see the transformation of the neighborhood (and gentrification) as necessarily being negative. "My food is quite expensive. I mean hippies can afford it, sometimes. Some of them. This place is more for the, I say, 'upper class hippy.'"
Omar then went on to distinguish himself and his restaurant from the hippy movement and the other bohemian hippies in the area. "'Hippy' can be related to consciousness, and I'm a part of that. But 'hippy' can also be related to drugs and marijuana- and I don't want to be a part of that. This place is here for sobriety for peace for love and for harmony. No alcohol, no drugs, none of that here, because I don't believe in it."
In discussing the community activists who feel disenfranchised by the political process that resulted in the Granite Block rezoning, Omar had this to say:
This counter-culture has to be authentic. This counter culture has to help this place to be a better place. I'm all about action. I'm not about someone standing on the side of the road making problems. I'm all about making a difference. Those people are they making a difference? I know I can hear their cries that they built up this community. But are they making a difference in this neighborhood? Are they contributing to consciousness? To good things? Or are they contributing to drinking coffee and smoking weed on the streets?
We went on to discuss the possible negative results of the project, which will be corporate America likely replacing the former ma and pa stores.
If they do put a corporation in here then that creates a very hostile environment, that corporate America has created. And I don't like that because we need to create an environment that is a loving atmosphere...They better build something but have local businesses attend to it rather than have corporate America attend to it.