For the past four years, professor of Arabic Shereen Elgamal enjoyed taking her students to Mediterranean Deli in downtown Elon to try different Middle Eastern cuisines and practice their Arabic.
That all changed Aug. 18, when a sign was posted in the window of Mediterranean Deli announcing the town of Elon location of the restaurant would be closing permanently.
“At a personal, professional and actually kind of a campus-wide level, it was quite a bit of a disappointment,” Elgamal said.
Located on the ground floor of Park Place, Mediterranean Deli — often called Med Deli — served salads, spreads, baked goods and sandwiches. The restaurant opened in 2018 with an invitation from the university. Mediterranean Deli’s other location in Chapel Hill will remain open.
The reason for the closure is unknown, and Mediterranean Deli owner Jamil Kadoura was not available for comment.
“We appreciate the years of support that you have given us, and everyone is welcome at our Chapel Hill location,” the sign in the window said.
University spokesman Owen Covington said Park Place was developed in partnership with Elon University, but the university does not own the building. Instead, it leases the land to the building owner. Because of this, Covington said, the university does not have a direct relationship with Mediterranean Deli regarding its operation of the retail restaurant or its lease of the space, but he said the deli did provide catering services to university clients at times.
“Elon contracts with the building owner to provide management and maintenance services for the residential units on the upper floors, which are used by Elon students and managed by Elon’s Office of Residence Life,” Covington said.
Park Place declined to comment on the closure at this time.
Elgamal said she’s disappointed to be losing the deli’s cuisines represented in the town of Elon.
“I think it was a very nice outlet for our campus,” Elgamal said. “Simply Thai, for example, represents Thai food, and I thought having something from the Middle East would be nice for students to experiment with a variety of foods, different cuisines, different cultures and so on and so forth.”
Professor of performing arts Kim Shively texted professor of performing arts Susanne Shawyer as soon as she heard that Mediterranean Deli closed.
“I’m incredibly sad,” Shively said. “And it’s going to be a real loss for our community.”
The two professors agreed with Elgamal about losing Mediterranean representation in the town of Elon and added that the deli provided options for people with dietary restrictions on campus.
“A lot of faculty who are gluten free or vegan really appreciated the options at Med Deli,” Shawyer said. “If we also had a guest artist or somebody visiting, it was always great with anyone who needed those options in their dining, but maybe we wanted to have a conversation, rather than going to Clohan, which can be a little noisy.”
For Director of Jewish Life Betsy Polk, options for dietary restrictions were a part of the appeal of Mediterranean Deli. The closure of the location was disappointing for Hillel, Polk said, which often had events catered by Mediterranean Deli.
“We have to focus on what kinds of foods we can make available that are kosher friendly and are kosher, and Med Deli was a great partner in being there for us in that way,” Polk said.
Shively and Shawyer liked that the deli was locally run, and they hope that another local business will fill the empty location in Park Place, rather than a chain.
“We like to see the local businesses thrive,” Shawyer said. “Personally, I’d much rather have local businesses, rather than chains, up to support on campus, and it was a great option. So we’re a little sad.”
Though Elgamal liked the convenience of the downtown Elon location for her students, as a Durham resident, she has been and will continue visiting the Chapel Hill location with her family. As for her Arabic classes, she said if she could plan a big trip with student volunteers to drive one another, Elgamal said she would consider bringing her students to the Chapel Hill location to continue the class tradition.
If not, she said, her own house is open for her students to enjoy Middle Eastern cuisines.
“We also have a tradition that my students come to my house and cook with me once a semester,” Elgamal said. “Maybe we’ll have to make this twice a semester, so that we can again, cook and taste the food and at the same time visit a house environment from the Middle East.”