Cecilia Saleh, nicknamed “Sassool” by her father when she was a little girl, was born and raised in a small Mediterranean village in Lebanon called “Mazraat al Tufah”- the Garden of Apples. Like most girls in her village, she learned to cook traditional Lebanese food from her mother and grandmother. Cecilia developed a talent for combining ingredients. Every dish was a masterpiece in the hands of this brilliant young cook. She developed a reputation as one of the best cooks in the village.
Cecilia eventually married and started a family. She prepared all of the family’s dishes using fresh ingredients from their large garden. Mounir, Cecilia’s third son, followed in mama’s footsteps learning the recipes, flavor, and special touches of her cooking. He passionately believes and lives by his mother’s principle, “If you wouldn’t serve the food to yourself and your family, then don’t serve it to others.”
Because of Civil War, in 1976 the family packed their bags and fled to America with the help of Cecilia’s brother, Moussa Domit. When the Saleh family arrived, they acclimated to life in the US. One thing that they could not get used to was traditional sliced bread. The closest thing to Lebanese pita bread, was the tortilla. The Saleh brothers longed for the fresh pita bread that was such a wonderful part of growing up in Lebanon.
With encouragement from their Uncle Moussa and his wife, and armed with mother Cecilia’s recipes, the Saleh family opened a bakery in 1977. With the growing popularity of their pita pocket bread and other artisan breads, they expanded into the restaurant business in 1989. Then, in 2011, after working for 34 years with his brothers, Mounir decided to venture out and open his own restaurant in north Raleigh. This location later rebranded on Mother’s Day in 2014 to Sassool to honor mom, Cecilia, for her authentic recipes that were used to build the restaurant’s menu. A year later, Mounir opened a second location of Sassool in Cary, NC.
“Many years have gone by since those early days, but one thing has not changed, the quality ingredients and flavor combinations of Sassool’s recipes. I have been thinking about this for quite some time. My brothers and I would not have the success we enjoy without the guidance and love of our mom, Cecilia. Sassool Mediterranean Cafe is my tribute to her…a tribute to the love and special care she has for cooking.”