“I never thought I would be having a restaurant,” said the affable, soulful AlNashashibi, who’s owned Fairouz Cafe & Gallery at 3166 Midway Drive, Suite 102, since 1984. “Everything I planned for — didn’t work. And all the good things that happened to me: I never planned.”
Surrounded by his evocative, stylized paintings, the Jerusalem-born
AlNashashibi reminisced about life’s unsuspected twists and turns that culminated in creation of his Mediterranean buffet-style restaurant.
The restaurateur said the Midway strip mall he’s been in for 36 years is unrecognizable now. “We were the second tenant in after Godfather’s Pizza,” he said. “Now we’re the only ones left.”
Named for a famous Lebanese singer AlNashishibi admires, Fairouz means breathtaking turquoise stone in Arabic. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant offers 40-plus international-cuisine options including Greek, Lebanese, Spanish, French and Italian fare.
“We have falafel, tabouli, hummus, baba ganoush, lamb, beef and chicken gyros and stuffed grape leaves,” said the restaurateur. “We also have lots of vegetarian items. We have very good reviews on Yelp.”
Born in the old city of Jerusalem in 1950, AlNashashibi’s family’s roots date back centuries and include poets, writers and politicians — even one religious leader, Ibrahim’s great-grandfather prince Nasser Aldeen AlNashashibi.
Though steeped in the Middle East, AlNashashibi always wanted to be an American. He particularly admired U.S. President Abraham Lincoln growing up.
“I loved him,” he said, noting he shares Lincoln’s first name in Arabic.
Asked why he was so impressed by Lincoln, AlNashashibi replied, “For his family values, freeing the slaves, equality, justice and freedom — those things weren’t available for me then.”
Early on, AlNashashibi studied medicine overseas but found it wasn’t for him. He earned his law degree in 1972 in Beirut, then practiced law in the Gulf until 1986, before marrying and coming to San Diego.
“I fell in love with San Diego,” said AlNashashibi describing it as “a very spiritual city that feels like Jerusalem.” He added, “The beauty of being an American is that we all bring from our past good things.”
AlNashashibi started Fairouz with his brother-in-law, but the business struggled until finding its niche.
“We wanted to serve home-cooked, Mediterranean recipes that are good for you,” AlNashashibi said. “So I brought my mom’s recipes.”
AlNashashibi knew he could paint since he was 5 years old, but didn’t try it until he was depressed following a divorce. He turned to painting for therapy after a dream.
“In my dream I looked through a window at a field of flowers with colors I’d never seen,” he said. “I recognized that I’d always seen life in black and white, never in color.”
The next day, AlNashashibi started painting. “Six months later, I had my first exhibit here, and that night I sold $17,500 worth of art,” he said, adding, “I paint to discover the real values of life.”
AlNashashibi shows his own work as well as other local artists in his restaurant/art gallery.
AlNashashibi had a similar experience with writing. After his second wife died of cancer, he penned a poetry book, “Written With Colors Drawn With Words,” memorializing her. That was therapeutic for him too.
During the last nine years, he’s written another poetry book and a novel titled “Love Is All You Need,” loosely based on his life experiences.
“I got inspired with the novel when my wife was still in a coma,” AlNashashibi said. “I thought, ‘What positive could come from this disaster?’ The next day, the idea for the book came to me. I took her hand and said, ‘Thank you. You just gave birth to my first novel.’”
These days, AlNashashibi said his writing and poetry, to some extent, are taking him away from his painting.
Fairouz, for AlNashashibi, is much more than a restaurant. And his patrons are more than just customers.
“I have tons of grandchildren, brothers and sisters — this is how it feels,” he said.
Summarizing the long and meandering path that’s led him to San Diego and Fairouz, AlNashashibi concluded, “It is a beautiful life, what can I tell you?”
Fairouz Cafe & Gallery
3166 Midway Drive, Suite 102
Hours: Mondays through Thursdays 11a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.