IRIS-Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services

Syrian Cuisine & Pizza Come to Westville

Syrian Cuisine & Pizza Come to Westville

Written by John Curtis | Photography © John Curtis

Five years after leaving war-torn Syria, Mazen Saloumi has achieved his dream of having his own restaurant. On July 22, family and friends from the Iraqi and Syrian communities joined Saloumi as he re-opened the Emesa Restaurant on Whalley Avenue in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood as its new owner.

“This is my career,” Saloumi said, adding that he learned to cook from his father. “He loved to cook. I inherited it from him.”

As a chef in Syria, he worked in restaurants throughout the Middle East, in Lebanon, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. He was working in Saudi Arabia when he learned that his visa would not be extended. With civil war raging in Syria, he went to Amman, Jordan, and arranged to bring his family there. After more than three years in Jordan, the family arrived in the United States as refugees through IRIS and settled in West Haven.

Saloumi found a job as a cook in Bab al Salam, a Mediterranean restaurant in Orange. While there he befriended Mohamed Alshloul, the previous owner of Emesa. Alshloul, who emigrated from Jordan in 1988, bought the restaurant with a partner in 2005 and became the sole owner in 2015. (The original owner was a relative of Frank Pepe, owner of the Wooster Square pizzeria.) For Alshloul, the restaurant was a part-time venture. He’s a biomedical engineer and owns a company that sells medical devices in the Middle East and North Africa. He managed the restaurant with his son, but when his son lost interest in the restaurant, he looked for a buyer.

Saloumi plans to offer a mix of dishes at the restaurant, including traditional pizzas from its early days as well as a selection of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. His stints in restaurants across the Middle East expanded his repertoire, he says. “From each country I took some experience,” he says. “Each country is different, and you learn something from each country.”

His son, Ayman, helps out in the restaurant but is also studying biology at Southern Connecticut State University with an eye on a career in research. His daughter Ghena, 19, studies biology at the University of Connecticut, but has no career plans yet. Another daughter, Jena, 13, is still in school, and the youngest, Eleen, is still a toddler.

Photo; IRIS-Saloumi family_072221_27.
Mohamed Alshloul, the previous owner of the restaurant, with Mazen Saloumi.

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