To enter the restaurant Lina Abuadas and her husband Mohamid have owned in Hendersonville for 10 years is to enter another world. Mouth-watering aromas of exotic spices and slowly roasted lamb greet you, as does rhythmic music and a huge mural of a person leading a camel. Enticing photos of delicious Mediterranean dishes line the walls, along with Arabic words proclaiming friendship and welcome.
The bank of mirrors to the right have a dual purpose. During the breakfast and lunch rush, and for Friday dinner, they reflect light onto the happy diners gathered around the scattered tables. But after hours, those mirrors become part of an important ritual that builds self-confidence and community.
“We push all the tables and chairs out of the way, and the restaurant becomes one big dance floor,” Lina explained. “At the start of every class, each woman, big or small, young or old, stands in front of the mirror, gazes at herself, and says, ‘I am beautiful!’ We celebrate everyone, and then we dance.”
In the four years since she began teaching the classes, over a thousand women and girls have gathered to learn and share, building strong new friendships and a positive, healthy new relationship with themselves while they learn traditional middle eastern dances.
But even before there was dance, there was food.
Lina and her husband arrived in the United States from Jerusalem nearly three decades ago, and first lived in Texas near her brother-in-law’s family. The harsh climate and impersonal attitude of a big city wasn’t for them. By chance Lina discovered Hendersonville, with a climate very similar to Jerusalem, and a warm, welcoming community eager to embrace a new family.
The first decade they lived in WNC they worked at the Blue Ridge Community College cafeteria. “We wanted to share our culture,” Lina said, “So we started preparing some Mediterranean food to give the faculty and students something besides pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and cheese fries.” The new menu items were an immediate hit. Lina and her husband felt more people were ready for authentic Middle Eastern food, cooked with love, so they opened Pita Express in 2010. It, too, quickly became a favorite dining spot.
“People are driving an hour just to have lunch here,” Lina said. Even customers who had been going back to New York City for halva, a soft, fudge-like candy made of sesame paste, enthusiastically declared Lina’s version to be