[Photo from 2016 by Grant Shaffer]
In an Instagram post last week, B&H Dairy on Second Avenue outlined the hardships of running a small business during the COVID-19 crisis.
The lunch counter's post also noted that they had to lay off Mahmoud "Mike" Tarabih, the popular cook who was a familiar presence here for years behind the counter. "Though he had been with B&H for 14 years, he was one of our most junior employees," per the B&H Instagram post. "Many of our remaining staff are the sole breadwinner for their families."
In a widely circulated story published yesterday at Grub Street, Rachel Handler spoke with Mike about the layoff, the challenges of finding restaurant work during the pandemic and what might be next for him and his family, including two children.
"I don’t know what I am gonna do now. Who’s going to take care of the kids? I worked out a schedule with their principal [that matched] my schedule," he said. "If I start a new job, who will take care of them?"
Here are a few excerpts from the piece titled "He Fed the East Village for 14 Years. Now He's Wondering What’s Next."
It is essentially impossible to think of the East Village without thinking of Mahmoud "Mike" Tarabih, the self-described "grill man" at neighborhood mainstay B&H Dairy. Tarabih has been crafting tuna melts and greasy omelettes while also serving as B&H’s de facto, wildly charming host for the last 14 years, remembering the names and orders of every single person who's ever visited the kosher diner.
On how he got the job:
We know each other from back home, from Egypt. [Co-owner Fawzy Abdelwahed] is my friend from back home, same city. When I came to New York, he invited me to see the place. I liked the place, and when I started, I loved the place 100 percent. It was not like customers, it was like family. Everyone asks each other what’s going on in their lives. Nobody was like, "I'm the boss,” you know? That's why I loved my place. I did my best. I worked from my heart. When I cook, I cook from my soul.
On remembering everyone's name and order:
When you love what you’re doing, it’s like a child. I have two children at home, this [job] is my third child. I love it. I just love it. Every part. I come in the morning, I smell the food fresh, and I finish my day, I say, “Thank God, everybody went home happy. Everybody is happy.”
On finding a new job:
I’m looking. I talk to my friends. But nothing is happening. I'll take any job. I don't care. I've already called a lot of people, but a lot of places are still closed. We’ll see. Thank God, I have a lot of friends to help me. I'm happy. The only problem is I lost my job during a bad time. I have two families to support.
One of his longtime customers, Morrigan Burke-Martin, helped Tarabih set up his own GoFundMe to offset the costs of raising two children and supporting his extended family in Egypt. The crowdfunding campaign is at this link.