JP Center gets Middle Eastern eats

February 5, 2010
By

David Taber

Minding Our Own Business

Close to a year after they set plans in motion to open a new branch of their Sami’s Wrap and Roll, a Middle Eastern eatery at 654 Centre St., the Saba family opened the new store last weekend.

Sami Saba Sr., who, along with his son, Sami Saba Jr., sat down with the Gazette at the shop last week, said opening a store in Jamaica Plain has been on his mind for a lot longer.

The Saba family was living in Roslindale in 1979 when they first started selling falafel out of a cart in the Longwood Medical Area, he said. They would drive down Centre Street every day. “I always told my wife I was going to open a restaurant in JP,” he said. “I have always been extremely aware of this neighborhood, I like what they do and what they stand for,” he said.

And, he said, his instincts were borne out during the year it has taken to open. “Standing on the sidewalk or when people have seen me in the window people have stopped to talk and peak in. They have shown a genuine interest. I grew up in a small town in Lebanon, and it basically felt that way. That comfortable feeling is why I want to be in JP. I love that and appreciate it very much,” he said.

It took a while to open—the Gazette first reported on the Saba’s plans last February—for a number of reasons, the father and son said.

For one thing, they did a gut rehab of the Centre and Green Street storefront. “The windows are pretty much the only thing that is left” from the storefront’s former life as an insurance agency, Saba Jr. said.

Saba Sr. said he was also held up by his lack of familiarity with the city permitting and community review processes. He said city officials, especially Colleen Keller from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and City Councilor John Tobin, were a great help in that process.

He went before three different neighborhood groups and the JP Business and Professional Association in the course of that process. “They were all extremely supportive and made me really comfortable. I did not get a single nay vote,” he said.

Saba Sr. said personal family matters also delayed the opening.

Now that the new store is opened, the plan is to start out serving lunch and gradually expand its hours to include breakfast and dinner, he said. “I want to open in stages—to troubleshoot and minimize mistakes,” he said.

One mistake so far is that the new store’s phone number is misprinted on its menu. The correct number is 522-7264 (SAMI).