Sarem Al-Shawk, manager of Istanbul Restaurant and Bakery, and his family are renovating the space at 888 Main St. in Westbrook. Chance Viles/American Journal

WESTBROOK — Sarem Al-Shawk and his family are working to bring flavors from their homeland to Maine with their new restaurant and bakery at 888 Main St.

Al-Shawk, the manager, his father Samer Abbas and uncle Kadhim Alallbubaiai are renovating the space once occupied the recently closed Top Kebab. The Iraqi immigrants plan to serve fresh Middle Eastern food at their Istanbul Restaurant and Bakery, drawing from their home country as well as its neighbors for inspiration and menu items.

“It is going to be food from all over the Middle East, all freshly made and family run,” Al-Shawk said.

The family owned and operated a similar restaurant in Iraq, but left their business and home behind due to growing conflict in the area. The family arrived in Westbrook a few years ago, and now members live in Freeport and Biddeford. They still think of Westbrook as home, Al-Shawk said.

“My family always wanted to get a restaurant going here and to bring some of our culture and food to the community we now call home. We are hard workers and this is a passion of ours. We lost everything, but we are on our feet now,” Al-Shawk said. “America is the country of dreams and we came for education and success, and now we want to give back to what is now our home.”

The menu will feature baklava, gyros, falafel, kebabs and more.

“For people who came in here before, it is going to be a lot different inside, too. We are bringing in a lot of our cultural items into the restaurant,” Al-Shawk said. “A big part of this is spreading that culture and what we know.”

Al-Shawk said being an Iraqi immigrant in the United States comes with challenges, and he hopes that by introducing customers to the culture with food, the family also can break through ignorance about Iraq and its people and create a more peaceful life for all.

“A lot of how things are represented in the media is not good, not right, and we want to let people know there is more to our culture than what they see on the news,” he said.

An opening date has not been set, but Al-Shawk said it should be in the next month or so.

“It is exciting, we are becoming better and supporting ourselves now doing exactly what we did back home,” Al-Shawk said. “America is our home now, Maine is our home. We want to give back, we want to be a community-based restaurant that can help support its community and people.”

 

 

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