'This is my home': Community supports Med Deli after fire
Jamil Kadoura opened Mediterranean Deli 32 years ago with his mom and sister, a $16,000 investment, six tables and 12 chairs.
The business grew to what many Chapel Hill residents know today — a large storefront on West Franklin Street with a dining room, market and outdoor seating.
On July 22, Kadoura called 911 to report that Med Deli’s roof was on fire. Although his employees managed to evacuate everyone in the restaurant, Kadoura went onto the roof to try to save the building himself.
“I was just kind of too attached to see it go,” Kadoura said.
He said he was worried about his employees, many of whom he said had been working for him for more than 13 years.
“I just wanted to talk to them and tell them, ‘Hey, we’re family, we’ll always be a family, we’ll get through this,’” Kadoura said.
During the fire, Kadoura said he remembers a man standing down the street from his restaurant, crying and telling Kadoura the town was going to raise money for the employees. Kadoura said that was the moment he broke down completely.
Sarah Potter, the economic development program coordinator for the Town of Chapel Hill, said Med Deli is one of the largest employers among Chapel Hill’s downtown restaurants.
Potter said she attended a meeting with Chapel Hill businesses, town officials and organizations that met the day after the fire to plan support for the deli’s employees. She said Kadoura’s primary concern was keeping all of his staff on board.
As of Aug. 21, the GoFundMe for Med Deli has raised over $213,000.
Kadoura said the raised money is controlled by the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro. The money will be given out as relief to his employees until they can earn a steady paycheck again, he said.
Alex Brandwein, the owner of the local bagel store Brandwein's Bagels, said he and other local business owners came together at the first community meeting after the fire and prepared to offered storage, freezer space and other support to Kadoura and the staff at Med Deli.
“We just want to be there for Mediterranean Deli as much as they've been there for us,” he said.
Kadoura and his catering staff have relocated temporarily to Elaine’s On Franklin, which is also located on West Franklin Street and owned by Kadoura.
Med Deli's campus location in the bottom of Lenoir Dining Hall is also ready to open when students come back to campus, Kadoura said.
He said he has already begun the process of rebuilding the back half of the building, which sustained the most fire damage. He also said, in addition to the restoration construction, he is finally going to build his dream kitchen.
Since the day of the fire, community members have been showing an “overwhelming” amount of support for the restaurant, according to Kadoura.
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Caroline Spencer, who lives in downtown Chapel Hill and has a son who works at Med Deli, said she received a call from a friend who told her to get to Franklin Street and look at the fire. Spencer and her family have known Kadoura for years. She said that the first thing he said when she saw him at the fire was, "We're going to do it all again."
"Med Deli means so much to so many people — Chapel Hill residents, Carrboro residents, but also people who are alums from UNC, people who lived in town, went to grad school and moved all over the world," she said.
Kadoura said one of the ways people have been showing their love is by leaving notes on the door of the closed building. He said he reads each new note every morning before heading into work.
“These notes on the deli are what energize me, and give me strength and resiliency,” Kadoura said.
Potter said the best way to help Med Deli during this time is to do business with them, which includes placing catering orders. She also said the business will soon be selling gift cards in replacement of donations, so that when the restaurant does reopen, people can enjoy their food again.
"This is not a business, this is my home,” Kadoura said.
Walker Livingston is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as summer city & state editor. Walker is a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and media and American studies, with a minor in data science.