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Olive Café prepares for Ramadan

Wednesday, August 11, 2010 | 5:57 p.m. CDT; updated 9:41 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Martha Rios prepares a takeout order of chicken in the kitchen of Olive Cafe on Wednesday. Olive Cafe owner Ayman Harb said many customers participating in Ramadan pick up food to take home in order to break the daylong fast required of devout observers of the holiday.

COLUMBIA — If you stop at the Olive Café during the next month, don't be surprised to hear parts of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, playing over speakers as you eat or wait for takeout.

The restaurant and grocery store, located where Café Berlin used to be on Walnut Street at Providence Road, has sold Middle Eastern food for 10 months and is gearing up to celebrate one of Islam's best-known holidays.

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"Sometimes, I have to explain to many people what Ramadan is," cafe manager Ayman Harb said, as he sat down at one of the restaurant's tables, straightening the homey yellow tablecloth in front of him.

He said Ramadan is "a test from God" because it requires self-sacrifice.

"Whatever I've done wrong, Ramadan is a time to cleanse," he said.

During Ramadan, which began Wednesday and ends Sept. 9, followers refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. The holiday is one of the Five Pillars of Islam that allows Muslims to focus on their personal faith and their commitment to Allah.

Harb, who runs the business with his wife, Samah Harb, said he expects evening business to be a little slow for the first two weeks of the holiday because college students aren't back in droves yet, and Muslim families who live in town typically cook at home to break the day's fast.

"A lot of Arabic college students will come by to eat, so the restaurant will be slammed," Harb said, referring to the second half of the holiday.

This is the restaurant's first Ramadan, and the Harbs hope to appeal to families by playing an audio version of the Quran during Ramadan to set a respectful, religious atmosphere. At the same time, they welcome all customers.

"The majority of our customers are Americans, so I'm not worried about business being slow during the day for the month of Ramadan," Ayman Harb said.

A sign reading "Ramadan" in English and Arabic is posted on the cafe's front window, and Harb said he has been planning for Ramadan at the restaurant for more than a month.

Although he is surrounded by food, Harb is fasting for Ramadan. The menu is being tailored to the holiday, and he is helping his wife and the other cooks get evening meals ready.

"We have a different meal every night for a month," he said. Harb became animated in describing one of the meals: lamb stuffed with white rice and four kinds of pastries.

The kitchen at the Olive Café, which has one other location in Kansas City, will stay open an hour later than usual, until 9 p.m., during Ramadan. The grocery store, which normally closes at 9 p.m., will stay open until 10 p.m.


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