SF family opens new Palestinian restaurant after fire at Mission location

While community favorite Old Jerusalem has been closed since July, owners venture into the Haight with new joint

Family owners of Old Jerusalem Restaurant opened a new location after they were forced to close, following an accidental fire over the summer. The new restaurant, Abu Salim Middle Eastern Grill, opened in the Haight on Oct. 20, restoring access to a longtime community favorite.

Owner Salim Nasser said the new restaurant is named after his father, Abu Salim, who opened Old Jerusalem Restaurant 16 years ago. Locals said Old Jerusalem became a go-to spot for locals and students, and after July 4 street fireworks set the location on fire, community-generated funds went to helping them reconstruct.

Many members of Nasser family, as well as other staff, were out of work from July until the opening of Abu Salim Middle Eastern Grill, said Sammahar Nasser, Salim’s sister and former manager at Old Jerusalem.

“It’s been there for 15 years, and my dad never, not one day, didn’t go in,” Sammahar said. “So then it was just hard for us to take a step back and be patient and wait for us to go back.” 

The family was already hoping to open a new restaurant, Sammahar said, but her father was having trouble finding a location that was “a perfect fit.” That is, until he landed the Haight Street vacancy just after Old Jerusalem closed for repair. 

“We’re just lucky to have an opportunity to do this again, to have something for everyone,” Sammahar said. “To give jobs back to the employees that we had, because we did take the Old Jerusalem employees and brought them back to Abu Salim’s.”

Although the Nassers were able to revive their business with a quick turnaround, others in San Francisco have not been so lucky. Since the start of COVID-19-related shutdowns, over 50% of business storefronts in San Francisco have closed, according to a survey by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. 

“It’s sad to see the Mission go down and businesses closing. I don’t even think a lot of the restaurants will reopen,” Sammahar said. “It’s harder now during COVID, but we’re very lucky to be in the situation that we are today. We’re able to open Old Jerusalem again, and just to keep the name going and bring the community back together.”

Salim said expanding his family’s business is even more meaningful during a time where much of the city’s locally owned businesses are struggling or disappearing due to ongoing gentrification.

“We gotta battle with the big companies,” Salim said. “In San Francisco, we have great people that love to support local mom and pop restaurants and businesses, so that’s always great. Once they find a spot, they tend to stick to it and they tend to spread the word. We want to keep San Francisco one of the most authentic cities there is to this day.”

Co-owner Charlie Sirhed said opening the restaurant was a positive experience, and that the Haight community has welcomed the new addition to the neighborhood.

Abu Salim Middle Eastern Grill is located at 1599 Haight St. and is open for take out only, as of December’s updated coronavirus restrictions. Old Jerusalem Restaurant is expected to open by the end of the year.