It's hard to believe the culinary success of Mediterranean Deli began with 12 chairs, six tables and one 6-foot deli case. Jamil Kadoura, an immigrant from Palestine, has built a small empire despite facing social and cultural challenges throughout his 27 years as a restaurant owner.
Kadoura opened Mediterranean Deli in 1992 with the help of his family and has since expanded the business six times. Mediterranean Deli now has an Elon location and serves various communities across UNC’s campus and the Triangle area.
"Our restaurant is successful because we came to the right community,” Kadoura said. “When you say UNC-Chapel Hill, to me, it's like I was born here. It's like my days started counting when I came here.”
Despite his successes today, Kadoura comes from humble beginnings. He grew up in Jerusalem, where he witnessed raging conflict involved with the Six-Day War and hostile Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Kadoura also lived in a refugee camp for a while but eventually immigrated to the United States and moved to Minneapolis, Minn., where he began pursuing his education while washing dishes at a local Sheraton hotel.
Kadoura spent years gaining experience in food service and quickly found himself rising through the ranks of the industry as a banquet manager and eventually a food and beverage director.
Although he saw success within the hotel food and catering business, Kadoura knew he wanted to open his own restaurant. So, shortly after being transferred to North Carolina, he and his wife officially opened Mediterranean Deli.
Kadoura now has 91 employees at the Franklin Street location alone, and he attributes his business’ success to the support of the UNC community over the years.
Kadoura pinpointed Sept. 11, 2001 as the day he gained insight into what values the people living in Chapel Hill held. He said the support he received in the community following the day’s events showed him how accepting of diversity and open-minded the community was to minority groups.
"I'm a Palestinian,” Kadoura said. “I grew up in the Middle East in Jerusalem. Sept. 11, 2001 defined UNC to me. This community showed me how liberal and how intelligent and how wonderful people they are when they started calling and communicating and telling one another, 'You need to go to Mediterranean Deli and see Jamil. We need to support Jamil.’”
He said Sept. 2001 was the busiest month Mediterranean Deli had since opening almost a decade earlier, and he was proud to live in such an open and accepting area.
Misoon Kim, an accounting employee at Mediterranean Deli, said Kadoura loves to give back to the community and has close ties with employees, customers and community members of all kinds of diverse cultures and backgrounds.
"Jamil treats his employees like family, and we have a lot of minority people working here, which he has always had a positive attitude toward,” Kim said. “He is very open-minded, and I appreciate that as an employee."
Miranda Ordonez, another employee at Mediterranean Deli, said Kadoura’s priorities include treating his staff and customers like family.
"He runs his business in a professional manner, and he always has a nice attitude toward people of all types,” Ordonez said. “He's really accepting of everyone who comes into his restaurant."
Kadoura said his 27 years of business in Chapel Hill have shown him how important it is to invest in and interact with community members of all types, and he does not see any long-term division in the UNC community’s future.
"What I love about this country in general is the freedom of speech and the freedom to be who you are,” Kadoura said. “I think this community will always be together — I really don't think this close community will ever divide. I think lots of people have different opinions and ideas, but I think the community will stick together, and I think they will find a way to pull together and get through this.”
Kadoura said he thinks the recent events involving Silent Sam speak to national division stemming from a lack of appreciation for cultural diversity, and he hopes the community can overcome these kinds of barriers.
"You have to pull together and know right from wrong, and I never thought I would witness what I'm witnessing in our nation now,” Kadoura said. “This is a place where you can say what you feel, and I hope things will get better for us, but everyone has to play their part."
Regardless of recent conflict, Kadoura said he identifies the UNC community as an open and accepting place he proudly calls home.
"I'm so glad I got to raise my kids here,” Kadoura said. “I'm so happy and lucky to be in such an open environment that includes academics and intelligent and open-minded people who want peace. It's priceless."
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.