Starter Stories

Starter Story: Sanaa Abourezk // Sanaa’s Gourmet Mediterranean

“My restaurant is for anyone looking for something local and different."

“My restaurant is for anyone looking for something local and different. There are 200 hamburger and steak joints around me. But I am different.”
- Sanaa Abourezk // Sanaa’s Gourmet Mediterranean

When Sanaa Abourezk met her husband in Washington, DC over twenty years ago, she had never heard of South Dakota. Born in Damascus—a city of over three million, she arrived on the East Coast after earning a masters degree in nutrition through California State Polytech University. The middle of America, with its wide open spaces and rolling hills, was a total mystery to her.

So when her husband asked her to move back to his hometown in South Dakota, Sanaa anxiously agreed. 

“It was quiet and beautiful, filled with fresh air—and I hated it,” she recalled of her first moments in the midwest, smiling. “I realized soon after moving that I needed to find a job to keep myself busy.”

Upon moving to Sioux Falls, Sanaa and her husband found joy in having their friends over for dinner regularly; their entertainment nights became a huge hit, due in large part to Sanaa’s authentic Mediterannean cooking. 

One night, a dinner guest mentioned to Sanaa that she owned an old warehouse by the rail station, and offered to lease the building to Sanaa on a discount if she wanted to start a restaurant.

“Of course, I said yes. But my husband is vegetarian, and I only eat farm-fresh food—we’re very picky people. It was hard to imagine starting a successful restaurant in South Dakota seventeen years ago that didn’t have burgers or fries on the menu.”

Sanaa’s friends thought it was a crazy idea, but she had already made up her mind. For almost two decades, Sanaa’s Gourmet Mediterranean has been a thriving staple of Sioux Falls. In fact, it’s so popular that Sanaa’s restaurant saw a mere 20 percent dip in revenue during 2020, a year that hit restaurants especially hard. 

After seeing the overall success of her restaurant and the Sioux Falls community’s love for her food, Sanaa decided it was time to explore wholesale and retail selling. To think through this new business model, she signed up for CO.STARTERS Core, hosted by Startup Sioux Falls, the local incubator and coworking space.

“The program was so eye-opening for me,” Sanaa said. “Because I was so excited and thought I already knew everything about scaling. My vision is to have my meals packaged, frozen, and sold in stores all over the country. But I learned it’s going to take a lot of work to get to that point. CO.STARTERS helped me understand all the steps it will take to get from where I am to where I want to be.”

With the country reopening and travel returning to normal levels, Sanaa anticipates her busiest season of business ever. Though her restaurant isn’t completely plant-based, it’s highly vegan and vegetarian friendly, which means people will go out of their way to eat there when traveling.

“My restaurant is for anyone looking for something local and different. There are 200 hamburger and steak joints around me. But I am different.”

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