A part of history
Khalid Farhoud, the owner and manager of Sammy’s Restaurant in north Sacramento (2021 Del Paso Boulevard), takes care of his patrons. On any day not beginning with “Fri,” you’ll see him around the joint—topping off coffees, busing tables or chatting up the regulars. And we use the word “regular” loosely. On your first visit, you’ll be charmed by Khalid and his restaurant’s old-school feel. On the second, he’ll recognize your face, ask your name. By your third visit, he’ll be calling you by name and checking up on your table to make sure everything’s perfect. If you want the whole experience, invite Farhoud to take a seat. Prod him a little on his own life, and he may just share with you the unique history of a man with no country.
How many hours per week do you spend at Sammy’s?
It depends. I have to be here as long as it takes. Sometimes I’m here at 5:30 a.m., yesterday I left at 6 in the evening. I used to work 15- to 16-hour days until I established a routine: who fits here, who fits there.
What kind of Palestinian meals do you offer?
We have, sometimes, kafta, bean soup. … We have rice soup, we have shish kebab sometimes, chicken kebab, hummus, baba ganoush … depends on the season. Lots of times we make vegetarian dishes, like zucchini and tomatoes over rice.
Why name the place Sammy’s Restaurant?
The place was named Sammy’s before I was born. It’s been around since 1944. Lots of people, they ask, “Are you going to change the name? Are you going to change the name?” I say, “No. We bought the name.” Because, 1944, that’s a legacy.
You’re very social with the patrons.
That’s why I love this business, because you know people by their first names. You have to be social, otherwise, you’d be in the wrong business.
But you’re not like most restaurant owners in that regard. You sit down and talk with their children.
I have lots of people who came in as kids who have kids now. They come in with a goatee, or I don’t know what—mustache. I’m serious! They come with a mustache and a girl, and I say, “Who the hell is that? Is that you, Joe?” They say, “Yeah, you didn’t recognize me?”
And they’ve been here since they were little?
Yeah. Their parents were here since they were little kids. A guy was sitting here, about a year ago, and said, “Believe it or not, this place is a part of history. It has lots of history.” I said, “What do you mean, history?” He said, “I met my wife here, and my daughters met their husbands here.”
You’ve lived an interesting life yourself. You’re Palestinian, but you’ve never lived in Palestine.
No, I lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, called Ain el-Hilweh. It’s 1 square kilometer. There’s about 80,000 to 100,000 people who live in it.
You were born there? How long were your parents there?
[My parents are] still there, since 1948. They were kids when they first got there: My mom was born in ’43, and my dad was born in ’39. … I [still] talk with them every week. Rain or shine! I call them every Thursday night here, which is Friday morning there.
Do they think about going back to Palestine?
They dream of Palestine, but nobody would allow it. That’s a dream. The right to return—that’s the dream of every Palestinian. Here, in the [United States], if you have refugees from Vietnam or Iraq, they consider them the new immigrants. In Lebanon, they keep their refugee status. The Palestinians have been “refugees” for 65 years. I was born there, and I’m considered a refugee. They give others citizenship, but not us, because they want us to go back to our own country. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
What do you think of Sacramento?
This is home. When I go back to Lebanon, the first week is good, the second week is OK, then I start counting down my return. … You know, your life is here, your work is here, everything is here.
And it seems you’re very much a part of the community here.
I think so. America’s given me a chance, given me the opportunity to become a citizen here. I never had a passport in my life. What I had in Lebanon was a number: “Palestinian Refugee so-and-so.” America gave me the chance to become a citizen, to give my life a meaning.