“Oh, I love it. Really!” An enthusiastic customer at Palmyra Authentic Mediterranean Cuisine in the South Hills Village Mall food court realized Mt. Lebanon Magazine was there for a story, and he felt he had to come over and express his support. Bob from Castle Shannon visits the restaurant daily, before taking a walk around the mall. “My grandparents are Lebanese … I like the mujadara, the lentils, shawarma is good. The Mediterranean salad…”
Bob is just one of the regulars who frequent the family-owned Palmyra, which relocated to South Hills Village from downtown Pittsburgh. The Moussa family was delighted at the number of customers who followed Samir, head chef and co-owner, when he made the move.
“We’re starting over here. We’re excited here. It’s our area!” said Samir’s wife, Rawah, who works at a Deka Lash beauty salon and also helps with the business. They live on Craigview Drive, and their son, Christian, co-owns and also helps manage the restaurant when he is home on weekends. Christian is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, in a pre-dental program.
The Moussas are from Syria. They spent many years as restaurateurs in Bulgaria before moving to the United States in 2012, to give Christian new opportunities (“the American Dream,” he said). Shortly after moving here, they opened a restaurant downtown and named it Palmyra after an ancient city in Syria that was almost completely destroyed during the Syrian Civil War in 2015.
“But when we first came here to the U.S., this is what the city looked like,” said Christian, indicating the large framed photo of the ancient city that Samir was holding over the counter. Samir plans to hang the photo along with a display showcasing news stories about the restaurant and the various accolades they have received.
The Moussas owned their downtown business for eight years, but it was very much dependent on the work lunch crowd and the activities that brought people into the city. COVID took a massive toll, causing them to close their doors on downtown’s Palmyra for good.
“I wouldn’t say we were close to giving up, but we were kind of in a tough spot because my dad never gave up on the quality of the food at our old restaurant, even though the volume of sales went way down … It just goes against our motto. We strive for freshness and perfection,” Christian said.
When they saw an open space in South Hills Village, they realized it was an opportunity to take their business to where their customers have gone in this work-from-home world—the suburbs.
The move paid off. During their grand opening, they sold out of everything, including all 300 pounds of meat that they had on their skewers.
“Our grand opening was like something out of a movie … We got a lot of support from people from the Mt. Lebanon area. It was so overwhelming. I saw old teachers, neighbors, friends, everyone,” said Christian, who graduated from the high school in 2020.
Business has been good for them since then, Samir reports, especially on the weekends.
While they continue offering the larger menu from their downtown restaurant for catering events, they pared a lot of the menu down for the South Hills Village location to include items that are conducive to the mall environment.
“Shawarma is actually considered a street food in the Middle East … if you go out shopping, like in a bazaar for example, they always have them sitting out. It’s just an experience that I kind of missed and want to gift to people—to be able to have good Mediterranean food when you are out shopping,” said Christian.
Shawarmas are their most popular menu item, coming in chicken, lamb or beef varieties, all marinated overnight in a special spice blend. Their falafels and hand-made baklava are also best-sellers. All of their food is made with fresh ingredients, using recipes that have been passed down for generations. For example, their mujadara rice is a centuries-old recipe that the Moussas often make at home.
“All of the food is prepared by me,” said Samir. “It’s the food that I make for my wife and my son. I’m happy to share it with everyone here.”
To contact Palmyra with questions or to inquire about catering, visit the Palmyra Mediterranean Cuisine Facebook page.