EDISON, NJ - While the holiday season is commonly known as ‘the season of giving’, Olive Press Eatery makes a tremendous effort to give back all-year round. The casual Palestinian restaurant and bookstore has been bringing people together with their food — not only because it’s tasty, but because it feeds a purpose too.
Owner, Shehnaz Abdeljaber, established her family-ran eatery in February 2019 to reflect her Palestinian identity and how she grew up. As a small business owner and daughter of immigrants, all of the products carried (e.g. woven baskets, za’atar, embroidered items, and olive oil) are from nonprofits that support Palestinian women co-ops and farmers.
As a space that embraces social and political justice as part of their commitment to a more equitable world for all people, Olive Press Eatery has been doing their part in supporting those in need. They are dedicated to empowering marginalized voices through their core values and also serve as a platform for books by authors who are not often heard in mainstream bookstores. Additionally, a percentage of their sales contributes to buying meal plans for economically challenged students at Rutgers University.
Unfortunately, the year has posed even greater challenges for everyone. So when COVID-19 first struck, Abdeljaber was eager to help despite facing hardships herself.
“We do a lot of community organizing. Since COVID, we kicked into action,” Abdeljaber says.
Abdeljaber and her team have made a positive impact on their community within a short amount of time through their devotion to spreading the love like it’s tahini sauce.
Olive Press Eatery has collected groceries, paper products, cleaners, sanitary napkins, among other necessities for families in need of support through donations. They have also provided and delivered meals to individuals and families.
Recently, a local educator and activist has organized a pop-up Thanksgiving pantry for Franklin School District families. OPE is helping gather grocery donations, such as boxed stuffing, potatoes, turkeys, canned vegetables, etc. until Nov. 24.
Their efforts to make a difference are the same whether it’s 100 people or a single person. This is apparent through their committed support and fundraising for an undocumented family they connected with, as well as through their “Pay With A Post-It” pay-it-forward program where local neighbors can buy one another a meal to enjoy.
“I think the beauty of the place, even though we're not doing that great in the past couple of weeks, is it's doing what it's supposed to do. It's bringing [the] community together. It's a place for organizing…” she says. “In spite of everything, this is what we're supposed to be doing. It's just been a great experience overall.”
Although the women-owned and family-run restaurant has been experiencing setbacks due to the restrictions, they are still operating at a 25% capacity and are happy to sit customers at their table. (Granted, that they kindly keep their masks on when not eating to ensure everyone’s safety.)
Guests can relish in trying fresh Palestinian and Arab dishes including: kefta lamb burger, spinach pie, shish barak, traditional falafel sandwich, shawarma, etc. Even better, all meals taste like they were prepared from home.
“What we wanted to do is give people a taste of what it’s like to eat at a Palestinian table…” Abdeljaber says. “I want you to sit at my table like you would at home.”
Abdeljaber stresses the importance of being compassionate, especially at this time.
“Support your local businesses. Understand that most of us don't turn much of a profit like corporations do. We don't have big money behind us. A lot of us have taken out loans that we have to pay back,” Abdeljaber says. “Just be kind. Give them a call, send them a card. It boosts morale. It's just these little acts of kindness that are very infectious. Just make somebody feel really good about themselves and what they're trying to do within your community.”
Need a last-minute appetizer for Thanksgiving? Place your order by Wednesday morning to get authentic Palestinian food made with heart and soul. Olive Press Eatery is located at 21 Pearl Street, Metuchen, NJ. Their regular hours are 12:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday-Saturday; 12:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. on Sundays.
Support Olive Press Eatery by giving them a call at (732) 662-5777. Or, follow them on Instagram and Facebook to see highlights of their dishes and learn how you can be a part of the community and help out!