After a hasty closing more than two years ago in Manitou Springs, Heart of Jerusalem Café will open once again, two blocks south of its former location in the Charlie’s Pit Barbecue space at 718 Manitou Ave.
Hussein AbuKhdeir originally opened the restaurant at 906 Manitou Ave., now the home of Colorado Custard Company.
The Middle Eastern cuisine quickly became popular with Manitou residents and visitors. The restaurant was not very popular, however, with the condominium tenants above the restaurant who did not like the continual smell of cooking food.
AbuKhdeir did not have a cooking hood to vacuum away the aromas and was given an ultimatum — stop cooking or risk eviction.
He chose eviction, was kicked out in July 2007 and has been looking for a new Manitou Springs location ever since.
“I was looking for space and just happened to be talking to the owners of Charlie’s Pit Barbecue, who told me they wanted out,” AbuKhdeir said. “So I agreed to take over the lease there and now we’ll have a big space, with a dining area, a patio and a hood for cooking.”
Born in Jerusalem, AbuKhdeir immigrated to the United States along with his family more than 30 years ago. While his father served in the U.S. Army, Hussein earned an engineering degree and began his civil service career working for the U.S. Air Force.
Following a lengthy engineering career in California, AbuKhdeir was transferred to Colorado Springs during 1998, but following the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks he says U.S. officials became suspicious of Arabs in government positions. He lost his government security clearance during 2005.
“I had worked as an engineer in the civil service for 26 years,” he said. “After I lost my clearance and thus, my job, I started thinking seriously about opening a restaurant.”
Along with his wife Nissreen, AbuKhdeir opened his first Manitou Springs take-out style restaurant. The couple sold falafel sandwiches along with other Middle Eastern favorites and developed a loyal clientele.
The small space and lack of a kitchen hood, eventually led to the restaurant’s demise, however.
Reeling from the loss of the business, AbuKhdeir learned some good news. His three-and-half-year legal battle to regain his government security clearance proved successful, so he was able to resume his engineering career.
The restaurant business kept calling, however, and AbuKhdeir answered by opening two new middle eastern restaurants over the next year, one downtown and another near Austin Bluffs Parkway and Barnes Road.
This past summer he split with his partner Abdul Nasser, and relinquished the downtown location, but he held out hope that a new spot in Manitou Springs would eventually open up.
“This is a big space,” AbuKhdeir said. “We can make shish kabobs and more middle-eastern foods now, and we’ll employ five or six people plus our family members.”
Susan Wolbrueck, president of the Manitou Springs Business Improvement District, said the new Heart of Jerusalem restaurant will be a welcomed addition to the retailers along Manitou Avenue.
“Clearly, the AbuKhdeir’s had a large customer following while they were here,” she said. “People were sad when they left, so from a business standpoint, it’s wonderful to not have the space sit empty.”
Scott Prater covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.