Abu Dhabi: In the mid-1970s at the heart of Abu Dhabi’s Khalidiya district, a tiny restaurant run by a Syrian chef and his wife became widely popular with residents who were drawn to the place because of its grilled delights. The back of the four-storey building where the restaurant was located overlooked a number of locals’ houses (buyout sha’abiya).
The residents would look out of their windows and call out to one another: “Abu Kabi has started cooking!”, before making their way to the restaurant to buy the freshly grilled, hot meat, its rich aroma filling the air.
Fast forward to today, and Abu Kabi Kabab Restaurant & Grills is an award winner.
- Meet Emirati photographer who is inspired by abandoned family homes, empty spaces
- Chef Francesco Magro: An Italian schoolboy’s spaghetti adventure turns him into top Dubai chef
- Watch: Iraqi man, 62, turns Abu Dhabi street into urban oasis with 200 trees
- Six expat 'boys' from Dubai on life-transforming Burj-to-Buckingham mission
It recently won the Urban Treasures Awards from the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) during its second edition, for playing a significant part in shaping the emirate’s social fabric over the past 20 years.
Gulf News met Abu Kabi’s son who was more than happy to share the story of his family’s business.
“My father would sometimes grill outside in an area shaded by a few trees, so the residents would see him and crave for what he was cooking,” said Michael Ohan, the 43-year-old son on Kabi.
“I grew up in the restaurant along with my older brother and three sisters. We lived on the upper floor, and we spent almost all of our time there playing and mingling with the customers. Some cstomers who are still around remember us from those days,” he added.
The humble diner was run solely by Ohan’s parents who catered to around 10 to 20 people a day.
“My father started his career as a chef at major restaurants in Syria and Lebanon, before moving to Abu Dhabi in 1975 looking for better opportunities. Shortly after arriving in the capital, he decided to open his own restaurant.
“Our restaurant was a simple home-grown business. My father cooked the meat and my mother prepared the appetisers. Growing up, my older brother Kabi and I started to play our assigned roles in the business too. By the time I was 12, I was in charge of billing. Then I got upgraded to the kitchen – primarily to chop onions,” he recalled.
The restaurant took its name from the title of Ohan’s father - Abu Kabi.
Ohan preferred talking about his father by referring to him as , Abu Kabi, rather than revealing his original name. “Nobody knew his real name, to everyone he was Abu Kabi,” he reasoned.
Now an established chef himself, Ohan has come a long way since his onion-cutting days.
After finishing high school, he travelled to France where he acquired a bachelor’s degree in hotel management and hospitality at Vatel. In 2006, Ohan started running the restaurant by himself as his father passed away.
Although the restaurant expanded extensively over the years, serving up to100 people a day, Ohan refuses to change its basic concept or upscale its decor to make it fancier.
“This is how people have known the restaurant all these years. Most of our customers are second or third generation descendents of the very first customers we had when the restaurant started in 1975. My aim is to preserve this tradition and keep things as close to the original roots as possible,” he explained.
Abu Kabi Kabab Restaurant & Grills was one of 15 entities crowned winners of this year’s Urban Treasures Awards last Thursday. The annual initiative launched by the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), honours long-running establishments that have shaped Abu Dhabi’s urban and social fabric over the past 20 years.