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Exploring faces of Franklin Street international food

Chapel Hill, a town home to a number of restaurants with an international focus, offers cuisine from various corners of the world and new perspectives for the town community.

Some of these restaurants, like Mediterranean Deli, Bakery and Catering, have a longstanding history; others are waiting to make their mark in an environment increasingly tailored to global tastes.

Jamil Kadoura, owner of Mediterranean Deli, first came to the United States in 1982 and studied at the Minnesota School of Business.

After being transferred to Chapel Hill for a high-level position, Kadoura realized that he wanted to open his own place. Mediterranean Deli was born, and it now boasts 74 employees, a statewide catering service and the Southeast's only gluten-free bakery. The business has also been a catering partner with UNC for about 19 years. 

Kadoura said it took him and his staff almost two years to perfect the gluten-free pita. 

"When we came to make the gluten-free pita, we didn't have anything to go on, because it doesn't exist," Kadoura said. "It took us about a year and eight months." 

That effort, among others, is just one way Kadoura says he remains committed to healthy, diet-friendly food.

Kadoura said he believes healthy international food brings diverse options to the American table because different cultures have many different ways of preparing the same ingredients. He said UNC is starting to explore more international options due to the increased diversity of Chapel Hill's palate. 

Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe, another long-standing restaurant featuring international cuisine, began with a mission on a small scale and expanded to meet the needs of the community. 

"We began as a home-based community," said Vimala Rajendran, owner and chef at Vimala's. "A community-building, gathering space that was created in my home, mainly to serve my family a good meal, and partly to make a living." 

Eventually, as many as 150 people would show up at Rajendran's home for meals, which led her to create the restaurant. The restaurant preserves its social mission through various functions, including fundraising events and classroom trips, as well as catering UNC events. 

"We are good stewards of our resources-to-be," Rajendran said. 

Rajendran said Vimala's emphasizes the affordability of healthy, quick food.

Dan Truong and Deanna Sriphet are spouses and co-owners of the relatively new restaurant Sawasdee Thai. Truong said international food offers a helpful variety to international and domestic students alike. 

Truong and his wife met as international students in Eugene, Oregon. They reunited in Raleigh after college and had always planned to move to Chapel Hill for the small-town atmosphere. 

Truong said he and Sriphet had been looking at a location in Chapel Hill for four years before an opportunity arose. Now that they're here, they want to provide quality Thai food for a vibrant, earthy town.

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