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Monday July 28, 2014
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El Harissa Opens at Last



come. Harissa is a North African paste of olive oil, red peppers, and spices, and figures in many of the items behind the counter of what will eventually be both a restaurant and a market. Right now, it's mainly a deli case with seating.

The pair are both new to the food business, and it shows. Houamed, originally from Tunisia, is a pharmacologist, neurobiologist, and CEO of his own biotech company but was reluctant to sell a customer some roasted vegetables in the display case: "I'm unhappy with the way the parsnips came out--they are a bit woody. I want you to understand that," he fusses. Thomas confides that she was flummoxed when an employee called in sick--though a teacher for thirty years, "somehow it never occurred to me that my staff might get sick," she laughs.

Their lack of experience in the rough and tumble day-to-day business of retail is probably the main reason it took them over a year to get their shop open. Susan says the specific stumbling block had to do with how to license a space that was both a market and a restaurant--with the former being covered by Michigan Department of Agriculture rules and the latter by the Washtenaw County health department. It didn't help that their kitchen is not connected--prepared food has to be carried through an alleyway.

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