Desert Rose wilts over holidays

The Desert Rose Restaurant has closed down.

The Desert Rose Restaurant has closed down.

A Palmerston North restaurant that grew out of the food truck started by controversial asylum seeker Ahmed Zaoui has reached the end of the road.

The Desert Rose Cafe and Restaurant closed its doors last year, wishing customers a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and promising to reopen last week.

But that never happened. A notice posted in the restaurant's window, on the corner of Cuba and Rangitikei streets, said the Desert Rose's lease was ended by the landlord, Hub Investments.

Ahmed Zaoui became a New Zealand citizen in 2014. He initially opened the Desert Rose food truck in 2010 before moving ...
Ciara Pratt

Ahmed Zaoui became a New Zealand citizen in 2014. He initially opened the Desert Rose food truck in 2010 before moving to Auckland. Salih Osman then opened Desert Rose as a restaurant.

A new restaurant was already setting up in its place this week, so if the Desert Rose ever blooms again, it will have to be somewhere else.

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The notice said Desert Rose director Salih Osman was served with a breach of lease notice on December 6 and after getting no response, Hub Investments changed the locks. Property and equipment left behind were being held by Hub Investments "for a time", to be collected by Osman.

Osman could not be reached for comment.

The Desert Rose was originally a food truck started by high-profile asylum seeker Ahmed Zaoui in 2010.

Osman took over the truck when Zaoui moved to Auckland in 2012. The following year he gave up the truck when he couldn't afford a rates increase for its site on the corner of The Square and reopened Desert Rose as a restaurant.

Palmerston North man Saeed Joudi has now taken over the lease for the site and plans to open a Mediterranean restaurant there.

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Originally from the West Bank in Palestine, he's worked in hospitality around the world for 23 years. He's wanted to open his own place ever since he came to New Zealand 16 years ago, to rejoin his family who arrived a few years before him.

"This has been my dream for a long time, to do this in New Zealand."

He said New Zealand welcomed the Joudis with open arms. Joudi said he quickly felt a part of the community and over the years he's developed a close circle of Kiwi friends that he considers part of the family.

In return, he wanted to share a bit of his culture and history through his food.

The menu will be a mix of dishes from every country around the Mediterranean Sea – and Joudi family recipes.

"That's what I come from – Italian, Turkish, Middle East people. We cook much the same things, but we each keep our own flavour," Joudi said

"[It'll be] traditional food from our family's history."

Joudi said he'd only recently started looking for a place to set up. He was ecstatic the Desert Rose site was available and he was able to start work on his restaurant so quickly.

"There was some other people keen to have it, but in the end [the landlord] liked my idea and what I wanted to do with the business. So I'm very happy."

 - Stuff


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