Salem’s In The Strip Working To Meet Demand Of Pittsburgh’s Growing Immigrant Community

Sep 14, 2016

Abdullah Salem, of Salem's Market and Cafe in the Strip District, searches through his order list of custom butchered goats and lambs.
Credit Virginia Alvino / 90.5 WESA

 

Watching Abdullah Salem manage his staff of half-a-dozen men behind a Strip District counter, it’s clear who runs the show. 

“We’ve been working since yesterday, 6 a.m. straight, ‘til now,” said Salem, 35. “We still have six cattle to cut, and then we’ll be done.”

Muslims around the world are celebrating one of the religion’s most significant holidays through Thursday this week. For many families, Eid-al-Adha, known as the “feast of sacrifice,” means purchasing a whole, butchered lamb, goat or a share of a cow. For Salem’s Market and Café, it's meant hustling to meet more than 350 orders... so far.

“We slaughtered a goat or lamb for every person who ordered one from us,” he said. “And we’re processing it to their request.”

Tradition calls for giving one-third of the sacrifice to charity, offering one-third to a friend and keeping one-third for yourself. It's one of the year's biggest holidays for butchers, he said, honoring Abraham's sacrifice of his son to God.

Salem, the owner's son and head of the meat counter, paused to greet a couple who stepped in for pickup. He had to search three separate clipboards, organized by type of animal, each with hundreds of names, to find their order number.

Akbar Siddiqui, 76, waited patiently with his wife while Salem tracked down their custom-butchered lamb.  

“Many years we have been shopping with them,” Siddiqui said. “It’s nice, you know, fresh meat we get, it’s reliable. Whatever we ask for, we get.”

Salem said the shop’s customers run the gamut. Customers are a mix of American locals, out-of-towners and immigrants.

“This is like one of the first places people come when they come to Pittsburgh, whether you’re from Africa, whether you’re Indian, whether you’re Asian,” Salem said. “People want fresh meat, they want a place to see people that are like them.”

Salem said growing up, his family didn’t have this type of familiar space. His father came to America as a political refugee from Libya in 1977 to pursue his master’s degree. After a stint as a substitute math teacher, Masad Salem opened the store.

It opened in 1981, the same year the younger Salem was born.

He said growing up in a family business is always tricky, made that much harder by the city’s lack of diversity.

“So we were growing up, we were the first Muslim kids to ever be in school, we were the first foreign kids,” he said. “Simple things like pepperoni pizza. They didn’t have an option for it when we were young. Now it’s like normal, everybody knows if it’s pepperoni day, there’s a non-pork option. But when we were growing up, that was one of the hurdles."

These days, he said community support goes far beyond pepperoni-less pizza. He hesitated before displaying Islamic art in the market’s café space, but he said customers have responded positively.

“Some time ago, somebody broke our window, they wanted to steal tip jar,” he said. “Maybe 50 people came up to us and were like, ‘Somebody broke your window? I hope it wasn’t because you’re Muslim. Let us know if you need anything.’”

Salem said with that kind of local love and acceptance, and a growing Muslim population, he hopes business stays good for many years to come.