Ghada Kassis is both the baker and the chef behind the delicious pastries and Levantine meals enjoyed at The Olive Branch. With her husband Salir, she runs the warm and inviting Middle Eastern Restaurant, offering an escape from the commotion of Bethlehem’s Broadway Street. Because of her love for the food and her neighbors, Ghada states that she “won’t give up her restaurant for anything,” and plans to be a part of the Broadway community for a long time to come.
In 1970, the couple moved together to the United States. Both the Kassis and the Atiyeh (Ghada Kassis, née Atiyeh) families are from the small village of Amar al-hosn in Syria. This village, home to less than 400 residents, sits in the Northwestern region of the country near the city of Homs. Because the couple had family in the area, they decided to move to the Lehigh Valley and to raise their son among the Bethlehem community. For many years, Ghada worked at Vinny’s Pastry Café, a bakery on Main Street in North Bethlehem where Tapas on Main can be found now. Vinny’s Pastry Café was owned and operated by a cousin of Ghada. During this time, Salir was a Bethlehem Steel employee, but the couple found themselves longing to open a restaurant that would serve foods found in Syria to other immigrants and with the Lehigh Valley. Their passion comes from a pride in their home village of Amar al-hosn and a desire to share the dishes they grew up eating with their new community.
This restaurant developed into a reality with the closing of the Bethlehem steel plant in the late 1990s when the family decided to invest in their dream. While the original focus was to serve classic Middle Eastern cuisine, Ghada’s love for pastry led them to open a hybrid restaurant and bakery in 2000. When choosing a location, the couple took interest in a cute storefront property (355 Broadway, Bethlehem PA 18015) that they found while driving through South Bethlehem one afternoon. The building’s charming, home-like atmosphere inspired them to buy on Broadway, and the restaurant has held this location ever since. Originally, in addition to the meals and pastries that can be seen now, Ghada’s enthusiasm for baking inspired a wedding and birthday cake division of the business. In their 19th year of business, the couple has taken a step back from the cake business to focus on the sit-down restaurant and in-house pastries.
Through her excitement in talking about the many different pastries she makes, it is very apparent that baking is Ghada’s passion; however, Salir wants the community to know that she is an outstanding chef as well. While Ghada modestly asserts that the cuisine is a collaboration between her and her husband, Salir argues that “she’s the cook and the baker” and claims to be her sous chef. If one thing is certain, it is that they truly enjoy the business and enjoy the opportunity to visit with the South Side residents that they have grown to know as family. Indeed, their restaurant caters to many repeat visitors as they have become the go-to Middle Eastern restaurant in the neighborhood. They notice that most people stopping in for lunch or dinner know what they want before they even walk through the door and often will not even open a menu. Although every meal on the menu has fans, Ghada believes that the most popular meal is chicken kabob with either a chocolate cake or peanut butter pie for dessert. Her own favorites are the kafta kabob (a ground beef kabob with spices, onions and scallions on pita) and the chocolate mousse. Salir’s favorites are the lamb kabob and the coconut cream pie.
The Kassis family “like to make people feel at home” in their restaurant. The yellow wallpaper wrapping the green walls, the friendly smiles greeting everyone coming in for lunch or dinner, and the hospitality truly make the meals feel like family dinners. In their 19 years running the restaurant, they have become a central hub of our community where they unite neighbors through Middle Eastern food and pastry.