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July 13, 2020 COVID Stories

COVID Stories: Middle Eastern restaurant staying safe, with limited offerings

Photo | Courtesy of Fatima's Cafe Fatima's Cafe on West Boylston Street in Worcester

Fatima’s Cafe of Worcester has relied heavily on its plethora of community support to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This community has been incredibly supportive and encouraging. Sometimes they’ll just stop by the window and ask how we are doing,” said Owner Omar Issa.

Fatima’s Cafe, founded in 2014, serves different East African and Middle East cuisines including Kenyan, Ethopian, and Somali foods. It typically offers dine in, take out, and catering services.

During the earlier stages of the pandemic, Fatima’s Cafe closed completely. It had just finished a renovation, and its unexpected closure was very difficult. 

Though it was rejected for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan at first, it was able to get a loan from the City of Worcester and then was accepted for a PPP loan in its second attempt. 

Until it received these loans, its employees went on unemployment but have since returned to work.

A little over a month ago, Fatima’s Cafe opened for take-out during a small set of select hours and now is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays for take out only. 

It has a window patrons approach with a mask on to pick up their food, and no one but employees enter the restaurant itself. 

In order to keep its employees safe, Issa and his wife Fatima work in the kitchen along with one extra employee in the morning and one in the evening. They do their best to social distance in the kitchen and restaurant itself. 

All of its employees continue to be kept on staff. 

Because the restaurant space is very small, Issa said it will continue only doing takeout for the foreseeable future. If he were to open the restaurant for dining, the restaurant would only be able to have two tables, which Issa feels like does not make sense for the restaurant. 

“I’m not in a rush,” said Issa. “Staying safe is more important than everything else.” 

This being said, many customers tell Issa how excited they are to return and dine in once they are able and it is safe to do so.

“Once you open, we will be there,” Issa said they told him. 

“We have had to adjust. I miss most when people would come and sit, and being able to talk to them,” said Issa.

He said the restaurant is lucky so many customers still stop by and check in, and the community support of Fatima’s has allowed them to make it through the pandemic.

“We are very grateful and very proud of our community, not just Worcester, but all of the surrounding area. In a way, this has brought us together,” said Issa, “We are very lucky to have such a strong community.”

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