Frequent diners of Juji’s Cafe were shocked when a wall was plastered between the Statler Arms lobby and the American diner-slash-Lebanese restaurant in early December. So, too, was owner Alex Choueiri.
“I was baffled by the way it happened,” Choueiri says. “I was serving the community down there for 15 years.”
Choueiri expected to renew his lease, which expired in November. But then-owner LCor, a New York City development group, was readying its late-January sale to Cleveland-based Millennia Cos. The real estate company, led by Frank Sinito, also owns Key Center and Marble Room.
Millennia Cos. declined to comment.
“I knew the ultimate goal was to sell the building,” says Choueiri. “I was on a year or two lease the past few years, but I wasn’t planning on moving out.”
Juji’s wasn’t gourmet, but it was fresh, fast, cheap and hearty. For the building’s young professionals who leaned on $7 deli sandwiches and dishes such as fattoush salad or a shawarma roll for a quick dinner, the cafe was an amenity in a downtown neighborhood with few options after the evening commute.
But for the Statler’s Middle Eastern residents, some of whom are temporary visitors seeking treatment at the Cleveland Clinic and suffering from limited mobility, they lost more than a taste-of-home halal menu. They lost a lifeline in an unfamiliar place.
“I had a big community depending on me,” Choueiri says. “I would provide their daily meal.”
Customers can now find Juji’s in the Langston building. Choueiri is partnering with Pita Wrapz to offer Juji’s full menu at the Cleveland State University spot. He’ll also keep offering his salads, deli sandwiches, eggs and coffee at the Crown Cafe in Independence’s Crown Center.
“It’s been very hard,” he says. “Customers call me every day. I had a family of 10 workers with me for 12 years who had to find other jobs. We were just taking off, and they shut us down."