An Anaheim Angel, celebrities and local residents have gathered to feast at Zabie’s Neighborhood Cafe for more than 25 years but the local breakfast spot near the Santa Monica Airport is set to close soon.
Zabie’s has served up its popular red velvet cupcakes, healthy homemade soups and other wholesome meals since 1994, long before it was trendy to serve organic foods.
Today, the bar that seated playwright David Alan Mamet, Tyler Skaggs and the thousands of others who have passed through the establishment is gone, but the familial atmosphere that attracted the likes of A-list celebrities along with the Pulitzer Prize-winner and star MLB pitcher can still be found on the corner of Ocean Park Boulevard and 30th Street.
While the restaurant is set to close shortly after Thanksgiving due to the effects of the pandemic, the stories of Sima and Hamid Hariri will live on in the hearts of everybody who was fortunate enough to meet them.
The loving couple has owned and operated the gourmet cafe since Hamid first set eyes on a for-sale sign back in 1994.
“I thought it was my son’s (Zubin) name so it attracted my attention. I came inside and realized that this place was for sale. And a year later, we took over,” Hamid said in a recent interview.
In the two-and-a-half decades since, the Hariri family has amassed a lifetime of stories — like the time Mamet gifted the one-of-a-kind posters that hang in the shop or the one instance when a Top Gun star invited them on-set — but it’s locals like Christian Lloyd, who has regularly stopped in to enjoy the food and company of the Hariris that make the place special.
“It’s the soul of Santa Monica,” Lloyd said as he sat down for one of the last meals he will ever enjoy at Zabie’s.
“It’s been a fixture for me and my family for many years. I really feel like part of the family,” he added. “(Sima) has known me since I was young and single, to getting married, to having a baby, to my baby growing up; she’s 14 years of age now and they love seeing her. So, it’s just a lot of wonderful memories and it’s been a place of comfort for us. There’s been a lot of change that’s gone on but it feels like a place that has roots for us.”
Lloyd is far from the only customer who considers the Hariris family.
“In the beginning, they are first-timers and strangers, but over time they come to be family as we get to know them,” Hamid said. It’s special, “because whatever you’re missing in your own immediate family, you can get it here. It’s like a dining room. These people become your aunts, cousins, nephews and brothers. It’s a true feeling of connection and care.”
Having watched generations mature before their eyes, it’s these close connections that Hamid said he will miss most.
“Some came in here as babies or even before they were born. Some of them, they come with a boyfriend or a girlfriend and then some of them come in married,” Hamid said. “That’s when I know I’m old — when they come in with babies and they were young when they first came in.”
As he detailed the unique service that can only be found at the mom-and-pop shop, Hamid said operating a restaurant is the hardest job in the world. “You commit yourself to the people and to your customer,” he said.
“There’s always something happening in the restaurant, so you have to always be ready to adapt and change with the times,” but this will be harder to do after the pandemic, which is partly why the Hariris are closing shop at the end of this month.
“It’s been nothing short of amazing to watch them as a couple and how hard they work. They’re here every day,” because if Hamid or Sima is sick, there’s no excuse, Lloyd said. “So, I hope they find something else in their lives to fill this in that gap because it’s been their identity for so long. It’s really a family affair and it’s a neighborhood spot that will be missed.”