Dearborn’s Arab American Food Scene Adjusts to a COVID World

In this episode of the Essential Cooking podcast, Zahir Janmohamed joins Ann Delisi and Chef James Rigato to talk about how Dearborn restaurants are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Celeste Noche
Celeste Noche

Zahir Janmohamed is a Zell Writing Fellow at the University of Michigan and is co-founder of the James Beard-nominated podcast Racist Sandwich.

In a recent article he wrote for Eater as part of an artist residency at the Arab American National Museum, Janmohamed took a deep dive into how Dearborn’s Arab American-owned restaurants are coping with the challenges of the pandemic.

For much of the pandemic, Dearborn’s positive case rate has been disproportionately high compared to the rest of Wayne County. Though a vast majority of Dearborn residents take COVID-19 safety precautions seriously, restaurant owners still struggle to enforce social distancing, says Janmohamed.

COVID relief loans have served as a crucial lifeline to many restaurants, but Janmohamed says that many Arab American restaurateurs struggled to navigate the administrative labyrinth of applying for such loans. Instead, many turned to friends and family to bridge financial gaps, says Janmohamed.

The business model for many Dearborn restaurants also stands apart from the rest of metro Detroit.

Dearborn restaurants are less likely to serve alcohol than their regional counterparts, relying on a high volume of sales at affordable prices instead. Pre-pandemic, it was common for groups of more than 20 to dine in a Dearborn restaurant.

Despite current challenges, Janmohamed is optimistic about Dearborn’s food scene. How long it takes for Dearborn’s restaurants to bounce back remains to be seen.

In This Episode

  • Difficulties applying for federal COVID relief loans for small businesses
  • Examining how the business model for Dearborn’s Arab American food scene differs from metro Detroit
  • Dearborn restaurants owners’ struggles to enforce social distancing
  • Why Zahir Janmohamed co-founded the Racist Sandwich podcast


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  • David Leins
    David Leins is a Podcast Coordinator and Producer at WDET. He also oversees the StoryMakers program. When he isn't making radio and podcasts, David is probably on a hike somewhere marveling at the trees.