Support El Harissa through the COVID-19 Shutdown

Dear Friends,

In late 2012, we, the El Harissa Family (Susan, Khaled, Yusef, and Yasmin), took over a semi-derelict space in a location that many advised us was too far off the beaten path. For months, we worked to repair cracks in the floor, we covered our gray, chipped walls with vibrant colors, and we built tables and counters and shelves at Maker Works, our local maker space. We bought equipment at auctions, and sourced other items at the local thrift stores. We worked to establish working relationships with local farmers and a gelato maker in western Michigan.

We imagined building a space where moderately priced healthy and flavorful food would be served. We took our culinary inspiration from the unique and expansive cuisines of our motherland, the Mediterranean: Berber, Arab, Sephardic, Italian, French, Spanish, Greek, and Levantine. We wanted to recreate experiences we have had in our travels, and for our food to tell stories about these distant lands and ancient cultures. Since ancient times these lands valued communal eating as central to their cultures; we thus imagined a place that would be more than an eatery – we envisaged a place that was a center of a community, a home away from home.

El Harissa Market Café quietly opened its doors in October 2013. In the last six and half years, we served our daily customers, we dedicated part of our space to local artists and craftspeople to sell their products, and we hosted poetry readings, live music, book clubs, and school groups. We participated in many events and festivals throughout Ann Arbor, and supported several causes and nonprofits.  Many people celebrated significant life events at El Harissa. We catered weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, and memorials. Amongst our customers were babies that were only a few days old, and a lady who was 104 years young. We’ve watched as many of our younger customers have grown up on our food. We provided lunch programs for local schools; we held fundraisers, we donated to good causes, we taught cooking classes and lessons about the history of our cuisine at Ann Arbor schools and at The University of Michigan.

We are immensely grateful that El Harissa has become a place where people like to gather. We are happy and proud that we gave many young people from the community their first jobs. Our lives have been immensely enriched by all of our patrons who have become our closest friends. We became part of people’s lives, and they became part of ours. It has been the honor of our lives to serve this remarkable community.


El Harissa has always been, and will hopefully continue to be, a bootstrap operation. We have been resilient, remaining open as power outages melted our gelato, as polar vortexes froze our locks, and through family sicknesses and deaths overseas. Although our business has thin margins and is seasonal, we survived and prospered because we could depend on our busy season to support us through the leaner winter months. This busy season (graduations, Mother’s Day, outdoor events and catering) would have begun now. Thus, unfortunately, COVID-19 could not have struck at a worse time for our business.

We need your support. Please help us raise funds to enable us to continue serving our community after this outbreak is over. We have some funds that we have saved, which we are using to pay outstanding bills, but we will need to continue to pay overhead, rent, and some wages and other expenses; we will need to replenish our perishable supplies before we can reopen. On the 15th of March, our last full day of operation before the shutdown, we had 11 colleagues (excluding us) on our payroll. We want to support them through this ordeal. Our industry is currently facing its greatest threat in more than a century, and we will have to adapt to an uncertain new landscape once our society begins to open up once again. Please help us if you are able. We appreciate your generosity; we appreciate your friendship, and we look forward to seeing you in the not too distant future. Stay safe and be well.

The El Harissa Family

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Yusef Houamed 
Ann Arbor, MI
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