Reem’s Arab bakery opens in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

On Saturday mornings from 2015 to 2020, eager customers lined up outside San Francisco’s Ferry Building to buy Reem Assil’s fluffy mana’eesh, grilled flatbreads topped with za’atar, fresh produce, and sumac chicken. The buzz around this Ferry Plaza Farmers Market stall helped fuel Assil’s culinary rise.

Now, Assil is back where he started, opening a permanent outpost of his hugely popular Arabian bakery inside the Ferry Building.

Reem’s will once again serve warm mana’eesh, flaky lamb dumplings and sauces at the Embarcadero destination beginning Thursday, November 17, pending final approval from the health department. For the first week, Reem’s will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, then it will switch to its regular hours.

The 300-square-foot space inside the Ferry Building, located across from El Porteño Empanadas, has four counter seats at a gleaming redwood bar, but will otherwise be a mostly-carry-out operation. It’s meant to evoke an Arab bakery on a street corner, with Arabic music and jars of Palestinian pickled cucumbers and chickpeas sitting on a shelf behind the counter.

Reem Assil inside her eponymous bakery's newest location, opening November 12 at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Reem Assil inside her eponymous bakery’s newest location, opening November 12 at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Santiago Mejía/The Chronicle

Assil, a former labor organizer who launched her business through culinary incubator La Cocina, opened her first traditional restaurant in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood in 2017, drawing national attention and praise, but closed in 2021. She opened a second Reem’s in San Francisco in 2020, as well as the now closed Dyafa in Jack London Square.

The new Ferry Building location is also a test case for Assil’s latest vision for its hugely popular business: small kiosks that are much simpler and less expensive to operate than full-service restaurants, and could more easily expand Reem’s across the globe. Bay Area.

At the new outpost, customers can order Reem’s mana’eesh on its own with garnishes like tomatoes and fresh herbs or as a wrap, surrounded by protein like sujuk, a spicy salami-like sausage. The MLM, or mana’eesh for meat lovers, a favorite at Reem’s original Ferry Building booth, will be available only at this location. It comes with Akkawi cheese, sujuk, tomatoes, and arugula. (The initials also turn out to be a revolutionary “double entendre,” Assil said, referencing Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.)

Reem Assil seasons MLM flatbread, topped with Akkawi cheese, sujuk, tomatoes, and arugula.

Reem Assil seasons MLM flatbread, topped with Akkawi cheese, sujuk, tomatoes, and arugula.

Santiago Mejía/The Chronicle

Arabian pastries, such as fatayer sabanikh (a spinach and onion pie), will be sold both fresh and frozen. Only the Ferry Building location will serve sfeeha, a square-shaped cake filled with lamb, pomegranate, and hot spices. People will also be able to grab hot pita bags and dips to go, from muhammara to labneh, as well as frozen mana’eesh and jars of spices. Eventually, there will be special menu items highlighting produce from the farms sold at the popular Ferry Building Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, as well as worker-created dishes. Drinks will include cold cardamom brew, hibiscus tea with rose water, and lemonade with mint and orange blossom.

Assil hopes travelers will enjoy a quick meal during the week, while tourists and locals who visit the building eat at the counter or grab bread and dips outside for a picnic.

All of the food will be prepared in a new commissary kitchen in downtown Oakland, which Assil says will eventually supply multiple spin-off kiosks, perhaps on the Peninsula or in the South Bay, as well as Reem’s wholesale business. Oakland’s Central Kitchen, whose location has yet to be announced, will also have a small space where diners can order food.

People lined up outside Reem's in the Ferry Building in late October only to find it wasn't open yet.

People lined up outside Reem’s in the Ferry Building in late October only to find it wasn’t open yet.

Santiago Mejía/The Chronicle

Reem’s marks the latest restaurant opening in the Ferry Building, which struggled with closures during the pandemic but is now home to Oakland’s black-owned Red Bay Coffee, a Filipino-Mexican food truck favorite Señor Sisig and the Latin American spot Cholita Linda. Reem’s took over the former Cowgirl Creamery space, which closed in 2021.

Assil is known as both an outspoken activist and a chef. She recently starred as herself in a new Rosario Dawson-produced series: a stressed-out Palestinian chef who, in an expletive-filled awards acceptance speech, rails against inequities in the pandemic-hit restaurant industry.

Assil sees the expansion of the Ferry Building as part of the “next frontier” for Reem’s. The entire business is becoming worker-owned, which Assil says is crucial to his long-term vision for the company. The Real People’s Fund, which provides capital to small businesses in “historically disinvested communities” in the East Bay, will help finance the conversion to worker ownership.

That model, along with the smaller Reem kiosks, could be the answer to the pressing question before Assil. “How are we going to create a business model that can pay our workers well?” she asked. “We want to create generational wealth.”

from Reem. Opening Thursday November 17. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday through Friday; 9 am-4 pm Saturday-Sunday. 1 Ferry Building, #19, San Francisco.

Elena Kadvany (she/her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle: Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ekadvany

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