The Municipality of Gaza has granted licenses for 195 new restaurants since the beginning of 2015, while 73 restaurants are waiting to be licensed.
Islam Rady – Palestine Economy Portal
Translated by: Tamara Barakat
Restaurants have become one of the favorite industries for investment in the Gaza Strip, at a time when political and economic conditions have led to a scarcity in investment opportunities.
This is highly apparent for anyone walking down the streets of Gaza. The Municipality’s data also confirms that 195 licenses were given for new restaurants since the beginning of 2015, while 73 restaurants are still waiting to be licensed.
Restaurant owners are surprised by the tourists’ shocked response to the availability of entertainment venues and restaurants in Gaza.
Restaurants of Best Quality
As you walk down the Corniche Road in the west of Gaza City, and look up, you will find in the seventh floor of one of the commercial buildings, a blue restaurant called “the Blue Sea.” This restaurant offers meals from both the eastern and western cuisines.
Upon entering the restaurant, you will enjoy the view of the sea waves. In disbelief, you will ask yourself, “Is this the same gloomy Gaza represented in the media: a destroyed city, with a population that wants to immigrate away from it?” This reflects the hope, passion, and love for life among Gazans. Restaurants are receiving great numbers of citizens, couples, families, and friends… The restaurants are well designed, which indicates that the money invested in them will lead to great returns.
Imad Arafat, the owner of the Blue Sea Restaurant tells the Palestine Economy Portal that he invested $150 thousand in this project, which only opened its doors to customers this summer. This is the second restaurant established by Arafat in Gaza.
The blockade placed on Gaza led to an increase in internal tourism. Arafat says, “Restaurants are the most successful investment projects at the moment because the people of Gaza need something to make them happy. Internal tourism makes up for the extremal tourism they are denied due to the blockade and the closure of all crossings.”
In the middle of Gaza City, the “Level Up” restaurant, located on the roof of one of the residential towers, has become a permanent of landmark the City, with its blue lights shining from all of its sides.
This shows that some restaurants in Gaza offer an excellent level of services, while others attract customers from the lower and less wealthy classes through a great quality of food and low prices.
In “Castello” Restaurant, located near the Unknown Soldier's Square, there is a great demand on fast food, despite the little experience of the project’s owner in this industry. He invested his money in the restaurant industry after doing several projects in other industries.
Fadel Mohammad, the owner of “Castello,” says that he thought about making this investment because of the harsh economic conditions in Gaza, resulting from the closure of crossings, the heavy restrictions placed on imports, and also because of the high return he can get from risking his capital.
He also mentions that he was active in importing electrical tools, clothes and shoes, but the blockade and the restrictions of the work incurred him great losses, and so he started to think about a making more profitable investment, which is what he found in the restaurant industry.
The success of investments in the restaurant industry led a number of Syrians, who ended up in the Gaza Strip because of the crisis ongoing for years in their country, to open their own restaurants that sell “Shami” food.
“Al-Dimashqi” is one of the Syrian projects in Gaza. Its owner, Muhannad Hamoudeh seems to be busy all day long receiving orders from customers directly or through the phone.
Hamoudeh was born in and lived most of his life in Al-Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria; when the situation there became unbearable, he sought refuge in Egypt, and went from there to Gaza, where he decided to open his own project with another Palestinian investor.
He tells the Palestine Economy Portal that the people of Gaza are delighted with the dishes of Damascus, and the restaurant is witnessing a great number of customers, which is making him extremely happy. He also adds that he used to work as a chef in Syria, specialized in eastern and western food, and he thought that Gaza needed a restaurant specialized in the dishes of Damascus.
Although the Palestinian cuisine is part of the Shami cuisine, the flavor of Shami dishes is unique to the people of Gaza, which might explain the secret behind the fast success of the “Dimashqi” restaurant in the Strip.
Compensation for Blockade
The Chair of Gaza’s Hotels and Tourist Restaurants Commission, Salah Abu Hasira, said that the blockade and closure of crossings participated in prompting internal tourism in the Gaza Strip since Gazans are denied external tourism.
He told the Palestine Economy Portal that the people of Gaza do not have any entertainment alternatives, which drives them to go to restaurants and local resorts within the Strip.
He also pointed out that the increase in investments in the restaurant industry resulted from the lack of other investment opportunities. Also, most of the new restaurant projects require a small capital of around $50 thousand, and so do not last for a very long time.
According to Abu Hasira, the tourism industry in Gaza contributes with 15% of the GDP at the moment, while it used to contribute with 25% before. It also provides 600 employment opportunities.
He emphasized the possibility of further uplifting the tourism industry in Gaza, if the blockade placed on it is lifted, the crossings are opened, and the taxes imposed on the Strip by the Government’s Ministries are lowered.