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Friday, December 19, 2014

Food is the family business

culture@dailylobo.com
@UncaMo

The Nesheiwat name may not be familiar to many in the UNM community, but the name’s owners are. Manny Nesheiwat and his clan have been a local mainstay since he opened the Times Square Deli Mart at the southwest corner of Yale and Central in May 2007.

The Nesheiwat family opened Sahara Middle Eastern Eatery on Central Avenue near Princeton Boulevard less than a year later, and has since placed a deli and a smaller version of Sahara in the Student Union Building. Most recently, the Nesheiwats started a combination deli and Jordanian restaurant near the pharmacology school on north campus.

Manny Nesheiwat moved from Jordan to New York City in 1976, when he was 18, and worked at a relative’s chain of deli marts called Robbie’s Delis. In 2006, he and his wife Ahlam, sons Tony and Omar and daughter Areeg moved to Albuquerque. Manny Nesheiwat said the climate here reminded him of his native country.

“There’s four seasons here, like the (Middle) East,” he said. “The East is so beautiful. It’s like a paradise, except for the fighting. I just can’t understand why they must fight.”

Because the family had friends in Albuquerque and the climate was ideal, Manny Nesheiwat decided to bring the type of convenience and hearty food found in Manhattan corner delis to New Mexico, he said.

The main deli seems to be constantly busy, with students, university employees and community members coming in for soft drinks, cigarettes or just to hang out and study over a daily special. There are many regular customers, most of whom Manny Nesheiwat and his son, Tony, greet by name. It is common to hear New York accents in the deli. Tony Nesheiwat grew up in New York, and Manny Nesheiwat said there are many customers who moved here from the East Coast who come in for a taste of home.

Tony Nesheiwat works at the main deli, taking care of the late shift. He said he grew up around the delis and has been working in the family business since he was 18. The menu at the deli and the convenience items are nearly identical to those at the family’s stores in Manhattan, he said.

“We just added green chile and breakfast burritos. Other than that, it’s the same menu,” he said. “My dad knew we’d be successful, bringing a taste of Manhattan to New Mexico.”

Tony Nesheiwat said each location is managed by a family member.

He and his father manage the deli, his mother and brother Omar manage the Jordanian restaurant Sahara and his sister Areeg and her husband Tom Khalil manage the on-campus locations. Each family member works about 60 hours per week, he said, and there is a family member at each location nearly every minute the stores are open. The family employs about three dozen, and Tony Nesheiwat said there is hardly any turnover.

“We pay everybody more than minimum wage, and we treat them like family,” he said. “There are some guys, like our head cook here, who have been with us since we opened up.”

Tony Nesheiwat said his father travels to New York several times a year, and that means Tony has to work double shifts. He said he can work up to 90 hours a week on those occasions.

Ahlam Nesheiwat and her son Omar manage Sahara Middle Eastern Eatery on Central Avenue, next to the Denny’s. Sahara has a different feel than the Deli Mart, but it still is a warm, friendly place. Like the deli, regulars are constantly coming and going. There is a great variety in the clientele, but one can often hear Middle Eastern accents among the regulars.

Ahlam Nesheiwat works mornings while her son closes the restaurant. She said that it is not easy running a business, but the family members take turns, so each person has time off. She and her family set aside time together each week.

“We stay up late to spend time together,” she said. “And we spend Sundays together as well.”