Last week, Palestinian restaurant Ayat was flooded with one-star negative reviews in response to the restaurant’s outspoken identity and its “call to end apartheid.” Those reviews have persisted and spread to the owners’ other restaurants. And yet, over the weekend, in the midst of an escalation of war in Gaza following attacks by Hamas, co-owner Abdul Elenani opened an Alphabet City location of Ayat — 107 Avenue C, at East Seventh Street — which had a wait for tables as a crowd gathered to dine at the restaurant on Monday.
As the conflict deepens, “negative is on a minimum and positive is on the rise,” Elenani told Eater, “as people come and show their support.”
Both Elenani and Ayat Masoud say they do not support Hamas and simply want Palestinians to be treated fairly.
Elenani claims that Ayat is one of the few outwardly Palestinian restaurants in the area. His restaurant joins Palestinian-owned Tanoreen in Brooklyn and Qanoon in Chelsea among others. (Down the road in Patterson, New Jersey with its 25,000 Palestinians, there’s an entire Palestinian Way, with at least five Palestinian-owned restaurants.)
All five Ayat locations, co-owned by Masoud, Elenani’s wife — in Bay Ridge; Industry City; Staten Island; Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Manhattan — have been “moderately busy” this week, with the East Village the busiest, as it’s a brand new location, Elenani told Eater.
Elenani is a co-owner of several other halal restaurants, including Al Badawi which opened in Brooklyn Heights in fall 2021, and Fatta Mano, also in Bay Ridge, in 2022. Meanwhile, there are locations planned for Ayat in Williamsburg, and a second Al Badawi heading to Somerville, New Jersey.
On October 15, the New York Times reported that Ayat’s Staten Island and Bay Ridge locations were being flooded with one-star reviews online. The one-stars weren’t the first time Ayat was the recipient of a flood of negative reviews.
Back in 2021, Elenani told Eater he feels that even calling his restaurant “Palestinian” opens his business up to potential harassment, despite the fact that “Palestinian culture and food has been around for thousands of years.” He emphasized that standing up for his people doesn’t mean he is in any way promoting antisemitism.
Fast forward to Friday, when Ayat announced on Instagram the opening of the Avenue C location of Ayat. The one-star reviews have followed to Manhattan.
Regardless, on Friday, diners trickled in early in the evening on opening day. It maintained momentum through the weekend. And by Monday night following the Times’ profile, the restaurant had a wait from 45 minutes to an hour-plus from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., with TV cameras from ABC News parked on street corners.
Passers-by can peek into the open-air restaurant on a warm night, with the flames of the oven a focal point of the dining room. It’s flanked by murals of a person wrapped in a keffiyeh crying, an olive branch, and a Palestinian flag, among other depictions.
The menu includes dozens of dishes that track with its other locations — cold and hot appetizers like muhammara ($13) and malfouf (stuffed cabbage $16), mansaf, a stew of bone-in lamb ($38), and maklouba ($34). Written in Hebrew and Arabic, the front cover reads, “Down with the occupation,” and “share the love.”
Before the food listings, there’s an essay on “the importance of Palestine,” with a line partway down the page that reads, “Throughout Islamic history, Palestine was a place of religious tolerance, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted peacefully.” It ends in an all-caps: “PRAY FOR PEACE FOR ALL.”
Since opening this weekend in the East Village, Ayat has received notes from people all over the country sending support, including many from Jewish customers and followers in solidarity.
“This has shown me there are truly kind-hearted people out here…” Elenani stated on Instagram. “We pray every millisecond for these evil acts to end and for the world powers to step in and put an end to this craziness where simply human life is being deprived of the very basic needs to live in the most bare minimum way possible.”