On March 13th, 2019, we attended a meeting of the Cleveland American Middle East Organization (aka C.A.M.E.O.) that took place at Al Pita Mediterranean, a restaurant in Beachcliff Market Square on Detroit Road in Rocky River that offers excellent Middle Eastern cuisine. While we were there, we met its owner, Mr. Noor Alq who immigrated to the United States eight years ago from Jordan. We were greatly impressed that he was able to put together such a successful venture when he was only 23 years old.
Thus we decided to ask him for an “I’ Foreign Born” interview, which might have been difficult to schedule because, incredibly, in addition to owning a restaurant, Noor also happens to be a student of mechanical engineering at CSU. He is getting ready to graduate with Bachelor of Arts this June. Noor proved to be a very bright, friendly, and accessible young man who agreed to meet us a few days later at the Starbucks at 14th and Euclid in downtown Cleveland.
First, we learned that his last name was initially “Alqawasmi” but he decided to shorten it for accessibility reasons. He is here with us in the United States because his father placed a very high value on education, both for Noor and his younger brother, Karam. Unfortunately, educational opportunities in Jordan are relatively lacking; in fact, Noor estimated that only one person out of one hundred thousand is able to earn a college degree.
Thus, in 2011 Noor’s father decided that the he, his wife and their two sons would re-locate to the Northeast Ohio area, where his brother-in-law lived, in order that his sons would have access to high quality education. This decision worked out superbly for Noor and Karam, but has been difficult for him and his wife because their English skills were limited, and the re-certification process that would allow Noor’s father to practice his trade of electrical engineering was daunting enough to cause Noor’s parents reconsider their plans after living here for six months.
Ultimately, it was decided that Mr. and Mrs. Alqawasmi would return to their home country of Jordan while Noor and Karam would remain in North Royalton with their mother’s brother, Kal, the boys’ uncle, who was a very successful entrepreneur. At the time, Noor was a 14 year-old freshman in high school and he remembers that the ESL program was excellent. His teachers and classmates were also very supportive of him in his efforts to learn English, which he did with their help along with listening to various media. We were naturally very impressed by the family’s willingness to sacrifice in order to make sure that their sons had the best opportunities possible.
Noor had been playing Soccer since he was a youngster in Jordan, and it didn’t take Noor too long to become a very popular team member. His longtime mastery of the sport made him well-qualified to be a forward.
While he attended high school, Noor assisted his uncle Kal by working at the coffee shop that he owned at the Justice Center in Cleveland. There he learned the day-to-day procedures of running a restaurant that would prove to be invaluable later on. Kal was an excellent role model because he had immigrated to the United States from Jordan some 20 years prior and was a masterful bridge between the two cultures.
When it was time to attend college, Noor decided to initially attend Tri-C. He graduated in 2016 with an AA in social sciences. Also in 2016, Noor and Karam both became United States citizens and Noor remembers proudly taking the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America in a ceremony in downtown Cleveland.
Shortly thereafter, Noor started to work on obtaining his BA in mechanical engineering at CSU but by now he had come to terms with the fact that he also wanted to pursue a career as an entrepreneur/businessperson under his uncle’s tutelage.
Regarding the area of business that he wished to tackle, Noor had long felt the Cleveland was lacking enough genuinely authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. So, Noor set his sights on opening his own restaurant and passionately went to work on a business plan that resulted in the opening of Al Pita Mediterranean in May of 2017. Displaying foresight, Noor realized that his time at the restaurant would be limited because he would also be attending college so he hired an experienced manager and put together a profit-sharing plan that would motivate his employees to offer the best food and customer service possible.
As a counterpart to his restaurant, Noor’s “pita truck” hit the road in June, 2018 and it currently can be sighted at multiple locales like Edgewater Park, college campuses, and downtown Cleveland on designated days.
As for Karam, Noor’s brother, he works as a shift manager at Al Pita Mediterranean and, like his brother, is an engineering student, but is more focused on that one field than Noor who has multiple plans for the future and is always on the move. For instance, Noor plans to continue his education and go for an MBA because he believes, rightfully so, that engineering and business are a very marketable combination. Not content with focusing his entrepreneurship only in one area, Noor is exploring ways to establish himself in the commercial real estate market.
To this day, Noor still loves to play soccer whenever possible and just adores cars; when this subject came up Noor grinned with enthusiasm and described himself as “an automotive guy.”
Talking about his cultural roots, Noor is of the Islamic faith and worships at a local mosque on a continual basis. Along these lines, he is glad that Al Pita Mediterranean allows him to share his cultural roots with others in addition to being a financial asset.
But, although he loves his homeland of Jordan, he is grateful that he was able to become a citizen of the United States, not only for the opportunity of economic advancement, but because it is not dictatorship and freedom of speech is one of our pillars.
To be sure, both Noor and Karam remain very close to their parents despite the geographic distance and Noor remembers how proud his father was when he attended his graduation from Tri-C because, in spite of the the pain of not living in close proximity to his children, Mr. Alqawasmi knows that he did the right thing by bringing them here.