This gem is beautifully layered in a way that honors age-old values and relationships and is therefore so inspiring and close to my heart! It’s about the hero's journey of answering one’s own calling, even if it is very different from the norm. It’s about a work ethic that involves doing everything with authenticity and humanity for all stakeholders. It’s about choosing a partner in the right context for the right reasons and doing the hard work of supporting that partner to bloom in their own way. It’s about being conscious of doing right by the relationships one has, whether they are with a child, parent, partner or friend. It’s about understanding fully what it takes to build a community and participating intelligently and generously.
The gem I get to reveal to you today, aspires to all these codes of honor and noble choices and more. It’s DishDash, a Middle Eastern restaurant in the South Bay in California created by the husband and wife team, Emad and Nadia.
The charming story starts with Emad and Nadia meeting at a dabkeh/traditional Palestinian dance class and deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. That is why Nadia added that she loves dabkeh! Nadia is half Indian and half Palestinian. Her Indian mother always encouraged Nadia to embrace being Palestinian as well as Indian and with such beautiful results. Nadia’s strong sense of identity and pride in her roots are truly inspirational. And, Emad’s mother sounds no less remarkable. Being raised in Sur Baher on the southeastern outskirts of Jerusalem, his mother would give him a one week break from the private school he attended to go out and get a job before the public schools started theirs. She instilled in him a love of perseverance and a knack for planning. Both Nadia and Emad were raised to love deeply, work hard and be proud of who they are.
Emad had joined his brothers in San Francisco when he was 16, finished high school and supported himself through college by working in restaurants. He then worked in the financial markets, but just didn’t find himself there. In Emad’s family, there was a rule that you could only stay away from home if you had done well for yourself, otherwise what’s the point of being away from one’s country and family. So, the plan was for Nadia to finish her university and then they would go back to Palestine. But then, DishDash happened.
The idea was originally sparked by Emad’s friends who kept on mentioning how they wished for a nice, full-service Middle Eastern restaurant in the South Bay area to have power lunches or to bring friends for a meal. So, when he saw the opportunity to open a restaurant at the picturesque Murphy Ave in Sunnyvale, he snapped it up. He was so young then and his landlord helped him because thankfully, he believed in the new kid on the block! Emad pulled together a menu and drew from his brother’s restaurant expertise, as he had a falafel restaurant in San Francisco at the time.
They opened with eleven employees and Nadia was right there beside him as a hostess. Their first days were also peppered with calls, yes phone calls, to his mother to ask about recipes. “Yamma/mama the falafel isn’t coming outright. What could it be?” “Yamma did you fry the falafel once or twice?” It was so heartwarming to hear this simple way of building a family business around real homemade food. The rest is history as they say.
They went on to open one more full-service fine dining restaurant and four casual dining versions called Dish ‘n Dash. I loved the thought that went into the name. Clever Nadia came up with it. DishDash/Traditional Palestinian Dress is an article of clothing that represents comfort and warmth and that is what Nadia and Emad wanted their customers to feel. Hospitality is one of the loveliest aspects of Arab culture that I identify with. To feed someone delicious food in a culturally accentuated setting and to treat them with warmth is just such a wonderful way to connect both on a human and cultural level. It’s also a play on the words Dish and Dash. And just to evoke a more causal fast-paced feel it became Dish ‘n Dash. Love it!
Speaking of settings, the different locations have different touches of Palestinian artistic touches throughout. The main branch on Murphy Ave has a mural that was created by a talented artist called Michael. Emad and Nadia obviously have a very deep admiration and respect for both him and his work. Even though Michael is originally of Irish roots, they gave him photos of Jerusalem and of Nadia, her daughter, and Emad’s mother and he created his interpretation of what they shared with him. The result is that you get to see their memories through a Western artistic eye. Imagine a backdrop of Palestinian embroidery, the olive tree, bread, and moulookhiyeh telling the story of what a Jerusalemite holds dear. The Cupertino Dish ‘n Dash branch has a huge piece by the entrance that has poetry by the icon of the Palestinian resistance and much-loved Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish.
The challenges and growth connected to the food industry are never-ending and are a part of the joy and the demands of this rewarding and personal journey. One such challenge was in building a central kitchen where all the prepping of the food such as the tabbouleh salad or the moutabbals/dips would be done. I had the pleasure of being given a tour of it by Nadia. I loved the enthusiasm and pride with which she showed me around and would draw my attention to details that I would not have noticed in quite the same way. She likened it to Disneyland, especially in the early hours of the morning with everything being made fresh. DishDash is dedicated to serving fresh food that is prepared from scratch and delicious to the senses. And we all know how that is not an easy feat! Let alone meeting logistical needs, in addition to the laws and regulations that surround them.
As Emad plans on how to expand, he mentions that this journey has been a slow and personal one. He doesn’t take on investors as he doesn’t want to grow at the expense of either quality or his staff. He values the freedom to call the shots and to take care of the people taking care of them. Nadia spoke of how it has been critical to identify those who were true team players and really invested in the business and to make them a part of the core team that moves the business forward. How beautiful are these values of focusing on inclusive growth and success, ensuring that everyone is on board, and honoring everyone’s contribution?
The note I would like to end on is Emad and Nadia’s commitment to the community in recognition of what it has done for them. Their children are a part of the strong and thriving community, which makes it easier for them to navigate the tricky waters of being both Arab and Muslim in today’s world. They also have a deep belief in the importance of giving back. I personally loved eating at DishDash and have a soft spot for their signature dish of Mansaf and their falafel. On the strength of just their delicious menu that has met the mark of excellence, I wanted to write about them in tribute to this gem that they have created. But it was hearing their names pop up again and again as generous, responsive, and respected members of the community that made me ask my dear friend Manya to introduce me to them.
Emad has contributed meat to make shawarma on Palestine day every year for longer than Nadia can remember. They also help fundraise for important causes. Nadia hosted the first fundraiser gala for the Arabic language weekend at the school her kids attend. They also support PCRF that is a wonderful organization that provides medical care for children inside Palestine who otherwise would not get the treatment they need. They support with both money and have hosted kids who came from Palestine. In addition, they provide the food for Aswat events out of acknowledgment for the incredible service Nabila has done in representing Arab culture in a positive light and to the kids to help them belong and be proud of being Arab. And, of course, their daughter is a part of Aswat. I wrote a post on Nabila and Aswat as Nabila is so loved and respected in the community and is an inspiration to all those who have had the honor and pleasure to meet her!
What a pleasure and an honor as well to have met you and heard your story dear Nadia and Emad. Thank you for what you do for us and in our name. In sha Allah our paths will cross again and again and this friendship that has just begun will continue for generations to come, building a strong community without borders.
ENJOY Dish Dash
This excerpt from the Michelin Guide perfectly explains the vibrancy of DishDash: "Dining on the run is certainly possible at this Mid-East gem on historic Murphy Avenue - just ask the techies who rush in to take food back to their desks. Families and groups congregate in the colorful dining room; and even though the space has expanded to include five outposts, you might want to linger on the front sidewalk patio - all the better to people-watch while savoring a bright, tangy tabbouleh, tender-crisp falafel or baba ghanoush topped with black olives and roasted garlic cloves. Served on griddled bread and enriched with a garlicky yogurt-parsley sauce, wraps like the incredibly smoky and juicy chicken shawarma are full-flavored and downright memorable. For dessert, go for the m'halabieh, a creamy and fragrant rosewater-and-pistachio pudding.
DISCOVER Elia Photography
Business owner George Kahvedjian is the son of legendary Armenian photographer, Elia Kahvedjian who beginning in 1924 documented the history of Jerusalem through the lens of his camera. In the shop, you can acquire a wide range of rare historical photographs of the Old City from before the Six-Day War in 1967.
George Kahvedjian photographs capture individuals in the midst of prayer, pilgrims, Old City vendors, moments of co-existence and the streets and alleys of Jerusalem. George’s book, ‘Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes’ can be purchased as well.
LEARN more about The Palestine Children's Relief Fund
The Palestine Children's Relief Fund was established in 1992 by concerned humanitarians in the USA to bring injured and sick children for free medical care they could not get locally. Since then, they have sent over 2,00 sick and injured children for free medical care, as well as sponsored hundreds of volunteer medical teams from all over the world to treat tens of thousands of sick and injured youths in local hospitals. PCRF also has built two pediatric cancer departments in Palestine and has several more major programs and projects taking place to help support the development of a sustainable health-care system there. They are a grassroots organization depending on the support of thousands of volunteers all over the world to help them achieve their humanitarian mission.