Jerusalem Garden’s founder Ribhi Ramlawi was a quiet man who welcomed anyone into his tiny restaurant. His spirit of kindness and openness imbued the place he established in 1987 to support his family. The father of eight had been laid off after working as a butcher much of his life, and used his $10,000 severance pay to lease the tiny place adjoining the Ann Arbor District Library.
Using old world recipes, he and his wife started making hummus, kabobs and falafel sandwiches. Customers came quickly: downtown workers, Community High students some of whom worked for him, and professors and students from the University of Michigan. It was a place without pretense, where everyone was welcome.
“He was definitely a positive influence in a lot of people’s lives and in the community too. ….Smiling all the time,” said his daughter, Nan Ramlawi. He peeled garlic almost as a meditative exercise.
Born in 1934 in a village near Jerusalem, the founder and his family fled to Jordan in 1948 in the diaspora. He moved again in 1962 to the United States, seeking greater economic opportunities. His family settled in metro Detroit.
Ribhi didn’t live long enough to see the fruits of Jerusalem Garden grow to its current size and impact on the community -a unique place with an awesome clientele. He died unexpectedly in 1993, leaving the restaurant as his legacy.
Today, three of the founder’s children are still involved and partners in the business: Ali Ramlawi, who at 18 came in to honor his father’s legacy. still makes hummus using his father’s recipe and serves as manager and head of operations, Nadyia serves as an assistant manager, and Mustafa focuses on making falafel.
The essential spirit of Jerusalem Garden goes back to a big-hearted immigrant who cared about people – and wanted his family to have something to nourish themselves after he was gone.
“He had a heart of gold,” said Ali Ramlawi.