story by rehab jarabah | art by alexandra fernholz

Ding-dong. 

That’s the sound that tells me a customer has walked in. It’s also the sound I tend to hear before I fall asleep. 

The Arabic music we played softly in the background which I’ve now memorized the order of. 

A hole-in-the-wall place right off Reagan Highway, located in Colerain. Also named after something that reminds us of our culture the most. Al-Zaytuna Grill-The Olive Grill, because it’s the crop Palestinians grow the most.

The people who have walked in, each with their own stories and lives.

All the interesting conversations I’ve had and people I’ve met.

Something my family is so proud to own. The dream we made our reality.

All, in a moment, taken for my own safety.

Everything I’d known for the last three years, disappeared.

As the coronavirus cases started to grow, my parents grew more and more worried. With every new article with new information, the more worried my parents got. Just a couple weeks beforehand, they didn’t care about the virus.

We knew things were getting worse. The constant rush that lasted hours, the rush that had just become normal to us, soon stopped. We went from never having a sitting moment to sitting for hours without seeing a single customer.

But as new laws came and more precautions were taken, my parents knew a decision had to be made.

Their options? Keep the restaurant open, continue to have a steady source of income and risk their health as well as the health of all six of their kids. Or close the restaurant, giving us no source of income, but ensuring we all stay healthy.

Even before these decisions were made and laws were sent out to the citizens of Ohio, we were taking our own precautions. We started putting all food in to-go containers to limit any germs coming back to the restaurant, then we completely stopped dine-ins and kept people off our booths and tables.

Even with these precautions, we were still faced with the decision. 

On March 15, 2020, we stood in the kitchen, refreshing our news stories. My dad was sure that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine would close restaurants. As coronavirus cases climbed both in the United States and Ohio, we watched as businesses were told to close. 

After a few days, my dad stopped taking my older sister, Nasma, and I to work. Although there was times I was annoyed at how many people would ask me dumb questions, like where chicken wings come from, and when people would be rude and messy, then not tip. However, the pros outweighed the cons. I had so many nice conversations with customers and became close with our regulars. I’ve watched people go from unmarried to married, watched families grow, and seen so many cute babies. 

We stayed at home, quarantined, while my parents, or sometimes just my dad, would go to work. But, every night when he came home, my parents, Nasma, and I would sit in the family room and discuss the same thing: whether or not to stay open. There was a lot of back and forth, but we realized we weren’t essential workers. Our health was not worth the risk of staying open. 

The decision was made: the kids would stay at home and self-isolate and my parents would clean and pack up the restaurant. They brought everything perishable back to our home, and that was that. 

They left a sign on the door and an answer on the voicemail for anyone who would try to come or call in an order. 

On April 1, 2020, we celebrated the start of our fourth year in business in quarantine.

We tried to make the best out of a bad situation. Even though we couldn’t celebrate with our customers, we celebrated as a family, a family who proudly owns a Medditerrian restaurant. As a family of eight, we keep ourselves occupied, and as Palestinians, our celebration was as fun as we could make it.

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