COLORADO SPRINGS • If your heart yearns for Middle Eastern cuisine in the Pikes Peak region, you’ll find it at the Heart of Jerusalem Cafe.
Last week, the fourth location of this award-winning Northgate restaurant opened at 122 Tracker Drive, Suite 110. Both The Gazette and Colorado Springs Independent have recognized the delicious and authentic cuisine over the years in their respective “Best Of” reader competitions. Guests can rest assured that they will enjoy excellent food in an atmosphere reminiscent of another part of the world.
In 2007, Hussein Abukhdeir and his wife Nissreen opened their first restaurant in Manitou Springs. This location will be replaced by their newest restaurant in Northgate.
The couple’s path to their own company is a typical American success story. In 1979, after graduating from high school in Jerusalem, Hussein joined his brothers in California. He then earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from San Francisco State University and a master’s degree in engineering from San Jose State University. What followed was a lucrative 29-year career in the United States Air Force. Hussein proudly notes that his father served in the US Army during World War II.
In 1998, Hussein’s California Air Force Base was moved to Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Due to circumstances beyond his control, Hussein lost his senior clearance in 2005 and he feared he would lose everything he had worked for during his Air Force career.
Hussein’s wife Nissreen decided she needed a back-up plan to ensure the family would continue to be supported. Hussein gives his wife all the credit for inventing the Heart of Jerusalem Cafe concept, name, recipes and menus. The recipes are family favorites that have been optimized and refined for use in the restaurant.
The Abukhdeirs wanted to open a restaurant that would share their love of Middle Eastern food and the culture of their home country in one local place. Until her first restaurant opened in the area, Denver was the closest place to find Middle Eastern cuisine.
The Manitou Springs restaurant was quite a hit after opening in 2007, and locations in Austin Bluffs, Centennial and Winter Springs, Florida followed. The five Abukhdeir children – three sons and two daughters – joined their parents in what became a family affair.
“It’s fun, we enjoy it and we’re together!” notes Hussein when describing the positive experience of starting and owning a family business. “We worked so hard together as a family. We always try to do our best.”
Nissreen is also from Jerusalem. Hussein Abukhdeir is pleased to share the story of their marriage in 1991. When his mother, still living in Jerusalem, died of cancer, she insisted that her son marry before her death. In order to fulfill his mother’s wishes, Hussein returned to Jerusalem from his then native San Francisco. He was introduced to 10 potential brides in his hometown. The last one he met was Nissreen, and he knew immediately it was a match. Nissreen and Hussein met on Wednesday, got married this Friday and his mother died with a smile on her face on Saturday, he said. Three decades later, the Abukhdeirs continue to share a joyful union.
Fortunately, Hussein’s security clearance was restored in 2010. He retired from the Air Force with honors and has focused on his restaurants ever since. Memorabilia and photos from his Air Force career are proudly displayed at Austin Bluffs Cafe, and it was fittingly the site of his retirement party.
The Northgate cafe follows the winning formula of the other locations but has its own personality. Cozy and sunny dining areas are complemented by an inviting fireplace. Decor has a Middle Eastern theme, with artwork and objets d’art that channel a visit to the Middle East.
A favorite on the menu is the kabob sampler, which features lamb, chicken, and kufta (lean ground beef) kabobs. The gyros are very popular and Hussein claims to be the best in town. Particular attention is paid to the use of premium cuts of meat and authentic herbs and spices. The result is dishes that are pure perfection. The hummus and falafel are a must try. Additional treats include espresso and hand-dipped ice. And don’t forget the rich and delicious baklava.
Future plans include the possible retirement of Hussein and Nissreen Abukhdeir. They plan to hand the restaurants over to sons Faris and Amro. Catering to local businesses and churches is set to continue as community involvement and support is particularly appreciated by the whole family.
The Abukhdeir family has happily followed their motto for 15 years: “Genuine Middle Eastern Cuisine made with heart”. Sharing their culture with Colorado Springs has been a family dream come true at their restaurant locations, where diners are invited to be transported to the Middle East through authentic decor, aromas and flavors.