Perhaps as soon as next week, Valencia Street will have a new Middle Eastern restaurant offering low prices with fresh ingredients. The new restaurant, called Yasmin, is set to open at 799 Valencia St. at 19th, the site of the former Ali Baba’s Cave. But the owners of the new restaurant aren’t newcomers to the city, or the restaurant business.
Yasmin will be the second restaurant owned and operated by Mohammad Eltawil and his family, who also own Palmyra, at 700 Haight St. between Haight and Pierce streets. The Eltawil family have been operating Palmyra for 10 years and say they’re bringing what made Palmyra a neighborhood favorite in the Haight to the Mission.
Eltawil estimates that Yasmin could open within a week or two. He bought the business from Ali Baba’s Cave owner Husein Dawah, whom Eltawil describes as a good friend.
“There’s a lot of fixing we’re doing. We’re making it look like a new restaurant — the old restaurant was 36 years old,” Eltawil said.
The Valencia restaurant is named after his daughter, Eltawil said. And the menu at Yasmin won’t be too drastically different from Palmyra’s. They currently offer appetizers, wraps and plates of homemade food that are priced reasonably — the most expensive item at Palmyra is a whole rotisserie chicken that costs $18. Everything is cooked and made in-house, like the kibbeh, which are fried dumpling-like appetizers made out of ground beef encased in wheat, made daily.
Eltawil said he and his family prepare ingredients daily and aim to be as hospitable as possible to their patrons. Eltawil said he tries to keep customers happy, even if it slims down his profit.
Those efforts have definitely worked so far: patrons in the Haight say goodbye with hugs and warm goodbyes to Eltawil and his family as they finish their meals and pay. It’s part of a tradition, he said, and a custom he brings from the Middle East. Eltawil immigrated to San Francisco with his family in 1994 from Damascus, Syria.
The family is so loved in the Haight that even as Eltawil explained his business philosophy and their family approach to the restaurant, a patron arrived with a crate full of lobsters and gave them to the family as a gift.
“We try to serve people. This is our way back home. You have to love people and put them above money,” Eltawil said.