In 2010, the dream of Reem’s was born at the doorstep of a street corner bakery in Beirut, Lebanon. Founder Reem Assil says, “The scent of za’atar, yeasted bread, and sweet orange blossom syrup right out of the oven and the sounds of laughter and chatter in Arabic all around me conjured up memories of my childhood and my yearning to create home and community in the United States. It was in watching the bread flying out of the oven, literally into hungry people’s hands, and witnessing the life inside those bakery doors despite the political turbulence outside of them that I realized my people are masters of bread and hospitality: the lifeline of our history and what has kept us resilient over many generations despite colonization, war, drought, and famine in the Arab world.”
On a soul-searching trip to Lebanon and Syria, Reem decided to bring this experience to the Bay. She wanted to bring more than just a bakery — she wanted to recreate the sights, sounds, tastes and aromas of the streets of Damascus and Beirut, and at the same time a space that feels familiar and inviting to all cultures. She wanted to create a sense of home.
In 2015, she launched her business as a participant of La Cocina, PCV’s partner in the SFEDA and a women’s food business incubator program. Her one farmers’ market location grew to many and soon enough, they were serving bread and street food fare to hundreds of people a week. In the fall of 2016, Reem opened her first bakery at her dream location—literally a corner of a transit center in the heart of the Fruitvale in one of the most diverse communities in Oakland. She entered and won thenational OpenTable contest to fund a dream restaurant, and six months later Reem’s California was open. Since then the restaurant has had local and national acclaim, even being named a Food & Wine Magazine Restaurant of The Year for 2018.
Reem’s is rooted in their community and committed to creating quality jobs for their employees. Reem’s connects with its employees by providing training and development plans with the hopes that employees will have the opportunity to grow and elevate within the company. Reem has shown incredible business acumen and conducts thorough analysis of both her market base and business finances. Through a self-run customer survey, Reem’s California determined that 60% of their customers come from within a three-mile radius, so they are now looking to expand in key geographic markets throughout the Bay Area.
Their new location is the former Mission Pie location in San Francisco. She told Eater SF that she had been looking to expand for six months, mainly because she’d outgrown her kitchen in Oakland, which couldn’t really accommodate the restaurant’s booming catering business. Just as constricting, she says, was the fact that she was never able to establish the kind of vibrant breakfast and pastry menu she’d dreamed of when she first opened Reem’s: Her pastries and breakfast items just never seemed to take off in Fruitvale the way she’d hoped they would, and pretty soon the bakery just stopped opening for weekday breakfast service.
The second location of Reem’s will be open all day, six days a week, from 9 a.m. to at least 9 p.m. — probably 10 p.m. on the weekends. The restaurant will serve the mana’eesh and wraps that its lunch and dinner menus are best known for, and it will offer beer, wine, and a robust coffee program. But what Assil says she’s most excited about is finally getting to implement the extensive Arab pastry program she’s always wanted — not just her stock-in-trade flatbreads, but also khobz sim sim, baklava, and the shredded-phyllo-and-cheese dessert known as kenafah, which she’ll cut to order from large trays like they do in Lebanon.
We’re excited to work with Reem to fund this expansion into San Francisco and help her build out her new space – and build her dreams!
Reem told us, “As we are gearing up for another outposts, there is a huge opportunity to do so thoughtfully. How do we scale up operations in order to create more growth and leadership pathways for employees so that they can envision upward mobility in the company? We hope to be able to provide that training and development using a core salaried team rather than having to eat resources from the individual brick & mortar. Part of the growth strategy is to build a winning team to free me as the owner to be the visionary and marketer and allowing me to do the time‐intensive work to drive a customer base to Reem’s. I am one of the biggest assets (in terms of my brand identity) to the business and I need to be able to do that better. And of course related to this part of the growth is to build my capacity and skill to be an effective leader.”
To support that, we’ve also paired Reem with multiple small business advisors. We paired Reem with Mike Vanecek, CFO at TMC Financing, as well as CPA Miles Mochizuki. Reem has been invested in a whole strategic operation around recruitment, development and training of employees. She said she’s eager to “create strategic partnerships that can help me have social impact‐‐ reaching those with the most barriers to employment and creating economic opportunity for those most in need. As a restaurant we’ve experienced both a tremendous amount of local and national recognition, getting featured in every major publication (over 60 articles over the last two years) from the New York Times to Bon Appetit Magazine. We were voted Food and Wine’s Top 10 Restaurants in 2018 and I earned back-to-back James Beard Nominations for Best Chef: West. Our media presence has helped me as the founder of Reem’s build a platform for a brand centered on Arab hospitality and the intersections of food and social justice. People from all over the country visiting Reem’s as a destination spot to experience the brand and are attracted to my story.”