A week after Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait mentioned Little Arabia in his State of the City speech, community members came together for a 'Shawarma Summit.' Papa Hassan's, listed as one of our ten essential restaurants in the city, played host to the event presented in partnership with the Arab American Civic Council (AACC).
The luncheon in West Anaheim's great unofficial ethnic enclave brought a diverse group of people to the table including representatives of elected officials, businessmen and neighborhood groups to talk about the future of Little Arabia.
Official designation of the area wasn't the dish of the day. Rida Hamida and Rashad Al-Dabbagh of AACC are conceptualizing a marketing strategy above and beyond promotion of small Arab-American owned business on social media sites. The new vision includes bringing the resort/convention economy and local residents into the fold.
Amanda Edinger and Esther Wallace of the West Anaheim Neighborhood Development Council (WAND), a longtime, mostly white residential group, were invited as was Jay Burress, President and CEO of Anaheim Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Mayor Tait was the special guest and acknowledged that an "eclectic group" came together over plates of falafels, shawarma and a dessert that translates into "heaven" both in Arabic and taste. "I think West Anaheim is the forgotten gem," said Tait, a regular at Papa Hassan's and Olive Tree. "We've separated the resort district from the rest of the city." It's a chasm he wants to connect as convention goers desire a true local experience above and beyond chain restaurants.
"It really has so much potential," Burress says in his first visit to Little Arabia. "There's a million dollars every hour spent by visitors in Orange County. We need to make sure this area is getting its share as well." Discussions have included the idea of having Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) shuttles routed in its direction.
"What we'd like to do by working with the city is to get this space to be the center of food and culture in Anaheim," says Hamida. "By doing that, we're also going to address city streets and crime in the area so it's really an economic and community development process." With the AACC, she wants to take an innovative and edgier approach to working towards that goal. That means bringing those with reservations like members of WAND literally to the table.
"We're very open about finding out information. We didn't come with an agenda," said Wallace. The WAND chairwoman described the vision as idealistic at this point, but her opinion about the Lebanese food was more straightforward. "It's the first time I've been here. The meal was delicious. I'm going to bring my kids here."
Now that's a start!
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz