The Oasis Grill had been a fixture on the student lunch and dinner route at 1104 South University since 1986. Owner Nizar El-Awar, who emigrated from Lebanon in the early 1980s, eventually opened two adjacent businesses, South U Pizza and Rendezvous Hookah Lounge.

Then developer Ron Hughes started clearing out businesses on both sides of the block to make way for student high-rises. The Vic Village North opened last fall; El Awar’s were among the businesses on the south side of the street that Hughes bought to clear the site of the planned Vic Village South. South U Pizza and Rendezvous Hookah are closed permanently, and Oasis Grill has relocated: in May, it opened for takeout and delivery at 1201 South University, the former site of China Gate.

“My clients followed me, and I have new customers now,” El-Awar says, “although business is down 70 percent because of the coronavirus. Our falafel is the best in town,” he adds, but the chicken shawarma remains Oasis’s most popular sandwich.

This will be the first time in twenty-five years that El-Awar won’t be a vendor at the art fair, which is skipping this pandemic year. But while he misses the old Ann Arbor, he acknowledges that the new housing brings more business and doesn’t regret the loss of his pizza and hookah places–it’s “one stop towards retirement,” he says. He has two sons, both of whom have worked with him on and off, but neither aspires to a career in the restaurant business: one is a U-M grad and the other is currently a student.

Oasis Grill, 1201 South University. (734) 665-2244. Daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

from Calls & Letter, July 2020

“In your last edition, my restaurant was featured in a small [Marketplace Changes] article that is very much appreciated,” emailed Oasis Mediterranean Grill owner Nizar El-Awar. But we’d omitted the hyphen from his name, and confused Oasis’s history of community involvement. “The article stated that we participated in the Art Fair for 25 years. That’s incorrect. We were actually part of the Art Fair for 35 years, and we participated as the longest running food vendor at the Summer Festival for 25 years.”

El-Awar also wished we had highlighted their “delivery services to the whole Ann Arbor community beyond the campus.

“Like many others, we are hurting, we are working hard to spread awareness of our restaurant, and we need your help!”