The exterior of a building
Yasmin at 799 Valencia Street. Photo by Yujie Zhou, June 1, 2023.

Sixteen months after an alleged arson closed down the Middle Eastern eatery Yasmin, its owners finally reopened this week — the result of a legal fight with both Yasmin’s landlord and its insurance company, according to the restaurant’s owner.  

“They made me open. I wasn’t ready to open,” said Eiad Eltawil, Yasmin’s owner for the past three years. Eltawil said that, after he fell behind on rent while making repairs from the fire damage, his landlord sued for back rent. The parties settled a month ago but, as a condition of the agreement, he said Yasmin was forced to reopen.

“When they made me pay the money, they forced me to,” he said, adding that he holds no ill will towards the landlord, but is ginning up for a legal fight against his insurance company, which Eltawil says did not pay for loss of income. “The landlord, I can understand, ‘Hey, insurance is not paying me, I’ll sue you.’”

“It’s not their job to cover my rent if the insurance is not going to do it.”

A room
Yasmin at 799 Valencia Street. Photo by Yujie Zhou, June 1, 2023.

Eltawil had originally planned to close the restaurant for a short two-week period to address damage after an explosive fire broke out in January, 2022, in the building’s basement. But repairs took much longer than expected. 

“We didn’t get enough support from the city. We didn’t get any support from the insurance. We didn’t get any support from the building owner,” said Eltawil, who’s just over 40. He declined to further disclose the source of the fire, which is under investigation as an intentional fire.

This May, Yasmin’s landlord filed a lawsuit against him after he fell behind on rent, he said, “because the insurance was not paying me the rent.” The two soon settled, Eltawil said, and his landlord allowed Eltawil to gradually pay back the rent he owed, plus attorney’s fees, which amounted to nearly $10,000. 

But that came with the additional requirement that Yasmin open its doors, according to Eltawil. 

Yasmin’s landlord did not immediately return a request for comment, but an attorney said on the owner’s behalf that the owner supports Yasmin’s efforts to open the restaurant and wishes it all the best.

Flea-market regulars

Thereafter, Eltawil says, he and his wife Sahar Milani — whose full-time jobs for the past 16 months have been taking care of their two children, a two-year-old and a three-year-old who will be “the future owners of Yasmin” — suddenly became flea-market regulars. 

Three people
Eiad Eltawil, Sahar Milani and one of their sons. Photo by Yujie Zhou, June 1, 2023.

“I sold everything I got in the flea market just to open today,” said Eltawil, who had just parted ways with his watches and clothes, and his wife’s art collection. He was also forced to borrow money from his family, which owns Palmyra, a Middle Eastern restaurant in the Lower Haight. 

According to Eltawil, his rent troubles originate with his insurance company, which he said has not paid out his loss of income due to the fire: The company did pay 12 out of 18 months’ rent, and paid for the removal of damaged cooking equipment, he said, but failed to give Eltawil a formal answer on how to calculate his loss of income from the fire.

“They say that they’re investigating the fire,” said Eltawil, who said he has tried “everything” to push the insurer to take the next step, including hiring a claims adjuster and a lawyer to advocate on his behalf. 

“Because of the contract, as long as they say ‘we’re investigating,’ it’s an excuse for them not to pay it,” he said. So far, Eltawil said he has dealt with four different agents from the same company. He has hired a lawyer, he said, and is attempting one last push at negotiation before he plans to file a suit, likely in the coming weeks. 

Eltawil faced additional costs during the 16-month closure: The city ticketed Yasmin, asking it to close down its parklet and remove the graffiti on its exterior wall. The corner restaurant had been covered in graffiti for months while it sat shuttered, and its parklet gathered trash while it sat unused. 

“We had a lot of abuse from the city. They came and painted the front red completely, so they could take my parklet away,” said Eltawil.

Another unexpected casualty: Rossi Mission SF, an art gallery founded and owned by Eltawil’s wife, Milani, remains largely closed. After the loss of income from Yasmin, the gallery, where indigenous artists often celebrate their work, has been open to the public just a handful of days in the last 16 months, for special exhibitions. 

Nostalgia for herbs and meat

Despite the forced reopening, Eltawil feels “excellent” about returning to his familiar rhythm of work, especially once he saw his old patrons. He said he has gotten “a lot of support from the neighbors. Our old customers are excited, and they are coming and buying food again.” 

Eltawil inherited the craft of cooking meat from his Syrian great-grandfathers, all of whom were in the business. Yasmin’s specialty is the seasoning: Its meat is flavored with 14 different herbs and spices, including cinnamon, cumin, coriander, sumac, nutmeg, cardamom and more. 

A plate of food
Falafel Plate. Photo by Yujie Zhou, June 1, 2023.

“Anybody could make one herb. It’s just to balance everything, for you not to taste one over the other, is what makes it so special,” he said.

Also embedded in his pride are the Syrian pizza and cheese pie, in which he stressed the freshness of the ingredients. “I go to Restaurant Depot almost every day,” he said. 

Yasmin, which originally opened in November, 2019, in the former Ali Baba’s Cave location, is having its grand opening today.

And Rossi Mission SF, for its part, will also have its grand opening soon, on June 18. For now, some of its art collection, including the work of Eltawil’s favorite graffiti artist, MQ, rests on Yasmin’s walls.

The couple sometimes brings their toddlers to Yasmin, where they can doze off in a stroller while their parents tend to patrons.

Eltawil’s wish, despite all the trouble, is simple: “Just work hard, and try to feed my family, support my kids.”


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REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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1 Comment

  1. “so they could take my parklet away” – what a crock. This guy walked away from this business for over a year, leaving that parklet to decay, collect garbage, and be worse than an eyesore. Of course, the parklet was an unused mess even before the fire. Everyone in the neighborhood was thrilled when it was taken down.

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