Go-to falafel and shawarma spot Ali Baba's Cave at 19th and Valencia is shutting doors, and the owner says it's because he's decided to retire.
Syrian-born owner Husein Dawah has been a running a business out of this location for 36 years, and at one point he had two locations of Ali Baba's Cave, with one in the Lower Haight. As Mission Local tells the story, Dawah began running a business in the Mission because he needed to money to support his studies to become an engineer. It was originally an Arabic deli and health food store in 1983, serving New College students and other neighborhood residents. "You could get lunch and a drink for three dollars," he says.
He opened his first full restaurant at 531 Haight Street in 1995, and it was so successful — getting rated "Best Falafel" by a local publication — that he soon converted the Valencia Street shop into the same concept, Ali Baba's Cave. The Haight location closed in 2011, and now Dawah says it's time for the Valencia restaurant to go to new hands.
While he says he isn't closing for financial reasons, he has seen his regular clientele dwindle. As he tells Mission Local, "In [the 1980s and ‘90s], most of my customers were students, hippies, punks... I was able to do it because this was a need for that kind of crowd... The newcomers to the neighborhood, they’re young, high-tech, making a lot of money. They need something to fit what they like."
Of course, longtime lovers of Ali Baba's delicious shawarma wraps and falafel won't be consoled by this latest loss of an inexpensive neighborhood mainstay. But Dawah says the new owners he's sold to will be keeping it a Mediterranean restaurant after a renovation.
Saturday will be the final day to grab a sandwich at Ali Baba's Cave.
In a note on the restaurant's door, Dawah writes, "I love you all. You are a part of my history. I will never forget you. Keep us in your memory."