Grano restaurant opens in South Charleston
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ammar Krayem -- the Charleston area's newest restaurant owner -- is a very positive man. If you knew his recent struggles, you might ask him how he remains so upbeat, and he would tell you, "It's faith in God."
Krayem, with his wife and four children, fled Aleppo, Syria last October -- amidst the horrors of a civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates. Since mid-December, Aleppo has been the target of an aerial offensive.
And in recent days, he has worked diligently to open Grano, his restaurant, despite a water contamination crisis that has crippled even long-time eateries in the area.
So Ammar Krayem knows first-hand the importance of a hopeful attitude in the face of adversity, and it shows from the moment you enter Grano, located across from the mound in South Charleston, along what is known as "ethnic food row."
His friendly manner, warm smile and firm handshake bring a welcoming feeling. That, and the delicious smells coming from the kitchen, as well as a beautiful homemade almond cake, a marzipan cake and Swiss rolls displayed in the curved glass bakery cabinet near the back of the café.
It isn't always easy to leave the past behind, but Krayem says simply, "It's faith that keeps me going."
An American-Syrian with citizenship in both countries, Krayem brought his wife and four children to Charleston because he has relatives here.
"I wanted my family to be close to their relatives in this difficult time. We had to leave everything behind. We left with just our jackets. But that is OK because as long as I have my family, my health, and my hope, everything will be OK," Krayem said.
The move has been a big transition for the family, but they are adjusting well to the changes and are excited about opening their new restaurant, Krayem said.
"Grano is a family business and hopefully it will give us some hope and help us to pay the bills. I believe that if you work hard and do an honest job, and you do your best, God will reward you," he added.
Grano, which means wheat or grain in Italian, is an Italian Mediterranean restaurant. The bright yellow and intense brown in the eatery's décor are drawn from the colors of wheat, Krayem said. The colors, lights, tables and chairs reflect his architectural studies at the New York Institute of Technology, while the extensive menu and soft music reflect the long history of cultural exchanges between Asia, Africa, and Europe in the Mediterranean region.
All converge for a feast of the senses. And it is, indeed, a family affair.
His wife, Naheda, prepared the mouthwatering cakes on display, and his son, Amjad, in 10th grade at George Washington High School, made a short film highlighting the restaurant's menu, its concept, and the beauty of the Mediterranean region. It plays on a large screen television in the café.
The oldest daughter, Nadine, is in college. The middle daughter, Hayla, is a student at George Washington, and the youngest daughter, Talia, is a student at Overbrook Elementary.
The Grano motto is "fast, healthy, casual dining at modest prices." Fresh food is their identifying trait, and their lunch specials are a way to eat healthy at about the same price as a fast food restaurant, Krayem said.
For $7.99, diners get a green salad and their choice of four soups (chicken, lentil, minestrone or broccoli), a Margherita pizza (a light pizza with olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese), or one of four pastas (fettuccine Alfredo, four cheese, farfalle primavera, or pasta with meat or marinara sauce) along with homemade bread.
For $8.99, they can choose a half chicken or beef sandwich with a cup of soup and a small salad.
Six children's meals are available for $4.99: two types of spaghetti, grilled chicken with rice, a cheeseburger, goldfingers (chicken tenders), or cheese sticks with fries. The price includes a small drink.
"After you taste our food, you will enjoy the true taste of the food. My business partner, Dino Eddin, is from Bologna, Italy. Food is culture, not just to fill the stomach. Going out to eat is a celebration, an event," Krayem said.
Eddin is an Italian-Syrian, and brings his own unique flavors to the menu.
"The Italian pasta is authentic. It is made from flour from Italy. The pizza crust is made from Italian flour. The most important thing is that our food concept is based on food culture, not just eating," he said. "It is very important for people to know what they are eating. We hope that people will consider changing their eating habits and make efforts to eat healthier foods."
"You are what you eat," Krayem said.
The eight handmade pasta dinners include a small salad and bread.
Penne quattro formaggi, fettuccini Alfredo, spaghetti with meatballs, and farfalle primavera are $7.99 or less. Lasagna or baked rigatoni is $8.99. Shrimp with spaghetti marinara and chicken parmigiana are less than $12.
Fourteen types of 13-inch handmade pizzas are featured for $8 to $13. Especially tempting is a capricciosa pizza featuring parmesan, mozzarella, mushrooms, artichokes and kalamata olives, and a parmigiana pizza with eggplant, garlic, ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.
Diners can also select their own toppings. A gluten-free pizza is available upon request.
There are six dinner entrees, each served with broccoli and rice: chargrilled Atlantic salmon, chicken artichoke, Cabo-style chicken, fish filet, a fried shrimp platter and goldfingers. The price range is $9.99 to $17.99.
The restaurant also offers three types of gyros, a falafel wrap, a steak sandwich, a grilled chicken breast sandwich, and four types of burgers, including a veggie one, for less than $10, including fries. Four types of kebabs are offered -- shish, chicken, kofta (lamb), grilled shrimp, and mixed -- for $10.99 and include two sides and pita bread.
The 11 appetizers on the menu are truly that, appetizing. They range from the typical -- buffalo wings, cheese sticks and bruschetta -- to the exotic, tabbouleh, falafel, and moutabal (a roasted eggplant dip). They range in price from $4.49 to $9.99.
Twelve types of delicious desserts are offered, including four types of cake (Black Forest, crunchy almond, marzipan, and coconut), three types of tarts (pecan, date and almond pear), as well as baklava, tiramisu, éclairs, Swiss rolls and sable. They are offered by the piece for $1.99 to $4.29 or whole for $25 to $39. These can be paired with espresso coffee or cappuccino, regular or decaf coffee, or tea.
A Mediterranean diet is highly recommended because of its focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy oils, such as olive oil. According to the Mayo Clinic website, the benefits of such a diet include reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.
"People feel comfortable and that is most important. If you provide good food and good prices, you'll be okay. Word of mouth is helping us a lot. I'm happy I'm here. It's a chance for me to give to West Virginia. Life is too short not to enjoy it," Krayem said.
Since coming to Charleston, Krayem said that he is enjoying the beautiful nature of the state and the friendliness of the community. He said that he recently spent five hours playing with his youngest daughter at a local park, a wonderful peaceful luxury for both of them. He said that he teaches his children to "always be positive and to thank God." It shows that he is teaching by example.
"We are really excited about Grano. I've tasted his food and he really knows what he's doing. It's great. I can hardly wait to taste the desserts," said Bob Anderson, executive director of the South Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Grano, 228 7th Ave., South Charleston, is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. A full catering menu is available. For additional information, call 304-205-5896. A website and Facebook page are under development.
Reach Judy E. Hamilton at email@example.com or 304-348-1230.