We Have a Winner! Reem Assil to Open Reem’s Arab Street Corner Bakery

We Have a Winner! Reem Assil to Open Reem's Arab Street Corner Bakery

Last spring we at OpenTable launched a contest to help one restaurateur fund his or her dream project. In conjunction with the release of our How to Open a Restaurant guide, we called on the restaurant community to tell us about the restaurant concepts they wanted to open and enter a competition to win our grand prize, worth more than $38,000 total. In August, after narrowing down the entries with the help of a trusted panel of New York restaurateurs, three finalists launched Kickstarter campaigns to raise money for their restaurant projects.

Today, we are thrilled to announce that Reem Assil is the winner of our Restaurant OPEN 2016 contest! Reem raised more than $50,000 through her 40-day Kickstarter campaign — far surpassing our $35,000 goal — and is well on her way to opening the doors to Reem’s, her Arab street corner bakery in Oakland, California.

One of the greatest things about this competition was really to help me celebrate the evolution of Reem’s over the past year,” says Reem. “I’m really fortunate that I have a backing behind me and people who really believe in Reem’s and want to see it as an anchor establishment, the way I envision it.”

The dream of Reem’s was born in a street corner bakery in Beirut, Lebanon six years ago, when the scent of za’atar, yeasted bread and sweet orange blossom syrup inspired Reem to bring the Arab bakery experience to the Bay. She worked as a community and labor organizer for a decade before dedicating herself to a culinary career and is now part of the food business incubator program, La Cocina. Offering traditional Arab street foods combining traditional flavors and local, organic ingredients, Reem aims to nurture a strong, vibrant, welcoming community in her Oakland neighborhood.

The larger work I’ve had to do — and am still really excited about doing — is being the visionary and talking about the larger project of Reem’s,” she adds. “It’s not just a food establishment, but an anchor establishment that provides really good jobs for the folks living in the community and a space for people to gather and learn about Arab culture and history and politics in a way that nobody’s ever done before.”

To recap, here’s what’s included in Reem’s prize package: 

  • A 12-month subscription to OpenTable’s flagship Guest Center product, plus access to the world’s largest diner network and a credit on cover fees
  • A full set of professional All-Clad pans 
  • A set of 25 Hedley & Bennett aprons 
  • 25 annual memberships to the online content from Journee, a community for restaurant professionals
  • $15,000 cash to put toward your project

Read on for our full Q&A with Reem below!Continue Reading

On Our Plate: Restaurant Weeks in Minneapolis, New York + Seattle; Fog City Now Open in SF + More

SRWHappenings on and around OpenTable…

* The New York City 2014 Michelin Star recipients have been announced. How many have you dined at?

* Iconic San Francisco restaurant Fog City is open for business. Find out what’s new at one of the Bay Area’s hottest restaurants.

* Save on tickets to Taste of Atlanta, October 25-27. OpenTable diners enjoy an exclusive savings on tickets, now through October 11th.

* Help fight hunger in Boston. Purchase tickets to the Lovin’ Spoonfuls Ultimate Tailgate Party on November 10.

* Trending on recent OpenTable restaurant reviews? Tripe!

* Santa Cruz Restaurant Week is in full swing. Reserve now for $25 three-course dinners, October 2-9.

* Seattle Restaurant Week starts soon. Snap up three courses for $28, October 13-17 and 20-24.

* Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Restaurant Week reservations are open. Book today for $10-$20 lunches and $30 dinners, October 20-25.

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Happy Birthday, Belga Café: DC Chef Bart Vandaele on 8 Years, Top Chef + B Too

With a father who was a chef, Bart Vandaele literally grew up in the kitchen and chose his profession at the tender age of 12!

This past summer, while preparing for a series of eight-year anniversary festivities for Belga Café, Washington D.C.’s first Belgian restaurant, planning the opening of a second restaurant, B Too, and acting as national brand ambassador for Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, and Leffe, Chef Bart Vandaele quietly slipped away for several weeks to compete on Top Chef Seattle, which premieres November 7, 2012, on Bravo.

Why take on this challenge in the midst of one of the busiest times in his life? Vandaele reflects, “It comes at the best and the worst time in my life. Everything in life goes like this. It cannot be better — and worse — at the same time.” Why television and why now? “It’s the next level, the next step, an honor. Plus, I am the first Belgian chef to be on!” He was able to pull off his disappearing act during this hectic time only with the help of those around him. “You prepare and hope that every team member that has been with you does their job. And they did! I have good people around me. My chef and sous chef have been with me for seven and a half years. I have cleaning and prep staff that have been with me from day one.”

Returning from filming, Vandaele hasn’t missed a beat. In fact, he may have added one. Even though he and his staff celebrate each of Belga Café‘s milestones, this year’s festivities are particularly, well, festive. “It’s a big year for me, so why not celebrate? I’m very proud of it!” A pioneer of sorts, not just in serving Belgian cuisine, but also in opening his flagship restaurant in the Barracks Row neighborhood eight years ago, Vandaele says of Belga Café‘s 8th Street location, “I was, in a way, the godfather of that street. In the beginning, everyone thought we were crazy, but it was all I could afford at the time. Now, there are many new restaurants coming to my street. And, so we are always evolving, always upgrading.”

As the neighborhood has changed, so has diners’ appreciation for quality beer. Almost a decade ago, beer played a distant second fiddle to wine at most restaurants. Not at Belga Café, which has always boasted a lengthy and unique beer list, however. “We are the first ones to embrace that, but I think beer is more accessible and has more flavor facets than wine. Wine is very fragile. With beer, there’s a little bit less mistakes you can make and, at the same time, you have more possibilities. You can cook a dish with a sweet beer and then pair it with a sour beer.”

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