Samir Mogannam, whose father founded local burger chain Burgermeister 20 years ago, has taken over operations at the restaurant’s 138 Church Street location, where he’s opened a business of his own: Beit Rima, serving “Arabic Comfort Food.” Soft opening hours are 5 to 10 p.m., with all-day hours to come.
Mogannam’s recipes are based on his family’s cooking, but he’s also racked up fine dining experience to draw upon: He worked at Mourad Lahlou’s original restaurant, Aziza, was the opening sous chef at Tawla, and the opening chef de cuisine at Dyafa, Reem Assil’s acclaimed Palestinian restaurant in Oakland. The chef, who is 28, also worked at Burgermeister briefly during his teenage years, ran his own Palestinian pop-up, and counts Manny Torres Giminez, the opening chef behind Mr. Pollo and now chef/owner of Francisca’s, as a culinary mentor.
Beit Rima remains in the Burgermeister family with Mogannam’s father, Paul, a 51-percent majority owner. But the restaurant is named for Samir’s mother, and it’s as much an ode to her Jordanian heritage as his father’s Palestinian roots. Beit Rima, or Rima’s house, even features homey decor that’s quite literally from his mother Rima’s home.
“They say you can knock on anybody’s door in Jordan and they’ll feed you,” says Mogannam. “That’s the culture of hospitality.”
It’s a culture he recalls from his mother’s dinner parties, and hopes to convey at the restaurant.
“I’m all about love and learning and bringing people together through food.”
Beit Rima’s menu is approachable and welcoming, too. Customers can pop in for a la carte falafel at 75 cents apiece, and the restaurant’s most expensive dishes are just $12: Beef kabob and chicken shish tawook platters, or a bowl of hummus ma’ Lehma (warm hummus topped with spiced beef). Spices come from Burlap & Barrel, a purveyor of high quality, single-sourced spices like Spanish smoked paprika.
“I’ve seen that it’s such an advantage having a fine dining background to open your own restaurant,” says Mogannam, who will prize seasonal ingredients and touts his vegetables from Mariquita farm. But a fine-dining pedigree can cut both ways, he says.
“I’ve seen what overly ambitious menus could do to a kitchen team, food and labor costs.” Rather than eschewing popular, if familiar, dishes like falafel, hummus, and baba ganoush, “I’m giving people what they want.”
The dining format is counter-service to start, with full-service to come on weekends and possibly at dinner. Arabic tea, Lebanese wine, and Palestinian beer (including a bottle from Mogannam’s dad’s hometown) are also available. A full menu is below, with more dishes, like a vegan take on chicken musakhan, to be added down the road.
Mogannam closed Burgermeister and began converting the space to Beit Rima on a tight budget in just three months. Interior designer Fadi Alnumaani and Mogannam led the redesign of the 40 seat-space, scouring area thrift stores for vintage Ethan Allen dining room chairs and punctuating the walls with Arabic pop-art from a Kuwaiti artist.
But Mogannam’s biggest design decision might have been his sign, which declares the restaurant’s cuisine “Arabic comfort food.”
“I was pressured not to use the word Arabic by some, but I stuck with my heart,” he says. “I am simply cooking Arab cuisine. ‘Mediterranean’ and ‘Middle Eastern,’” possible alternative names, “are wide, vague regions that spread far away from the Arab World.”
With the Church Street’s Burgermeister now Beit Rima, just one SF location of the chain remains: The original Burgermeister on Carl Street in Cole Valley. A North Beach location on Columbus Avenue closed earlier this month, though locations in Daly City and Berkeley are still open.
But with Beit Rima, the Mogannam family food tradition is alive and well. Bi-Rite owner Sam Mogannam is a relation, too — Samir’s first cousin once-removed. A second generation owner of the grocery store, he might even be a model for what Samir could do with the family business.
Beit Rima Soft Open by on Scribd