Mecca restaurant reopens in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina after the epidemic

Chef Malcolm Fennell checks iftar tickets on Tuesday morning, May 24, 2022, on the first day, Mecca is back for business.

Chef Malcolm Fennell checks iftar tickets on Tuesday morning, May 24, 2022, on the first day, Mecca is back for business.

jleonard@newsobserver.com

Makkah Restaurant, the downtown rally and oldest restaurant in town, is back.

For the first time since the beginning of the epidemic, Makkah has reopened its doors to serve breakfast and lunch from Tuesday.

Mecca is now in its 92nd year.

“We’re excited to be reopening,” said owner Greg Hatem. “And we’re happy to do it in May, that’s Christmas.”

MECCA3-FE-052422-JEL.jpg
Makkah Hotel in Raleigh is back open for business on the morning of Tuesday 24 May 2022. Julie Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

Hatem said the extended stop began as a precaution against the spread of the pandemic, and extended as the restaurant struggled to build a full staff of workers.

“We waited and took our time and now we have the ability to open,” Hatem said. “It’s very hard to find people at the moment.”

Downtown Corporation

Mecca was opened in 1930 and has been owned and operated by the Dombales family for decades. The restaurant, with its dark wood booths and a classic bar, has become a Raleigh institution, serving Southern staples to power brokers, politicians, lawyers, and downtown workers in the city.

Hatim, a longtime Mecca fan with other restaurants such as The Pit and Raleigh Times, bought The Mecca in 2018.

“It’s simple and real,” Hatem said. “There’s nothing disingenuous about it. I think it’s okay to eat simple comfort food; it’s good to go somewhere where you feel comfortable eating. We all need some of that now.”

A plate of fried chicken or perhaps a breakfast plate with two liquid eggs are part of this comfort, but Hatem said that a familiar bench or stall can mean a lot.

“We all need some of that[rest],” Hatem said. “It’s been a tough few years for people, so seeing the joy on people’s faces means a lot. It’s not that we’re declaring the pandemic over, we’re just starting to turn the other cheek and move on.”

As he promised when he bought, Hatem said, very little will be different from Mecca as diners return from the long gap. The menu will be the same, with only weekend brunch specials as a potential creativity boom. Look for pie, waffle, and omelette features on the weekends.

Eagle Scout Association Fundraising

Over the past year, the restaurant has opened for a handful of one-day services, what Hatem calls “replica pumps,” including the Eagle Scout fundraiser for his son. These services have been useful, Hatem said.

“We learned a lot,” Hatem said. “We knew we could still cook. We discovered that people have this connection to Mecca. Because it is still relevant, it is really part of the community.”

MECCA4-FE-052422-JEL.jpg
Bob and Jackie Thompson, who have been on their way to Mecca in Raleigh for 10 years, were happy to stop for coffee on Tuesday morning, May 24, 2022, the first day the restaurant opened.

The downtown Raleigh community continues to recover from the worst moments of the pandemic, with most office workers being sent home and restaurants turned over to ready meals. Downtown blocks have not yet returned to what they used to be, but Hatem remains optimistic.

“It’s like she didn’t have her morning coffee,” Hatem said of downtown Raleigh. “It’s there, it’s moving. It just needs a little nudge. … It’s not dead, it’s just a little drowsy.”

MECCA5-FE-052422-JEL.jpg
Makkah Hotel in Raleigh is back open for business on the morning of Tuesday 24 May 2022. Julie Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

This story was originally published May 24, 2022 11:39 am.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, and covers the Triangle and North Carolina dining scene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.