ITHACA, N.Y.—Loumies celebrated its official opening on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in Collegetown.

The Levantine-inspired menu offers Middle Eastern cuisine like lentil soup, hummus, zaatar, cheese, chicken and beef savory pies, okra stew, mushroom artichoke and stuffed zucchini dishes. The restaurant also takes care to annotate its menu with gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options.

Recently moving to Ithaca from New York City, Rania and Raed Kaldi were inspired to open a restaurant and offer home-style meals to college students and Ithaca residents alike.

In attendance for the ribbon-cutting were City of Ithaca Alderperson Ducson Nguyen, Tompkins Chamber of Commerce Jennifer Tavarez and Tompkins County Legislator Rich John, among others.

“Thank you so much everyone for showing up and supporting us, we feel the love of Ithaca,” Rania said. “The reason why we’re here is because we fell in love with Ithaca. We came during the pandemic and that’s where we came up with the idea for Loumies. It’s specifically for Ithaca. We’re looking forward to making a lot of friends, eating a lot of food and having a lot of fun.”

Raed Kaldi pours champagne to celebrate Loumies official ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo by Zoë Freer-Hessler)

Raed agreed with that sentiment. “We both have been all over Dubai, London, New York, and we finally decided it was time to settle down. We really belong in this community and we feel absolutely welcome, we thank you for that and we want to give back.”

Though she never anticipated opening a restaurant, Rania has loved cooking. She said she used to cater on the side, throwing big events with plenty of food. After those experiences, opening the restaurant was the next challenge for her.

Loumies originally opened at the very end of the fall semester right as students were leaving for winter break. The restaurant closed down for a little bit of the winter off-season before reopening at the beginning of Spring 2022 and cutting the ribbon March 23.

“I know how to cook but managing a restaurant is completely different. We’re the real entrepreneurs, working day and night,” she said. While they work on hiring staff members, Raed, she said, holds the official self-bestowed title as the best dish-washer in Ithaca, at least for the time being.

The food is from Rania’s experience in Dubai, where she lived for 18 years. Describing it as a melting pot of flavors and culture, “everybody comes with food. I’m fascinated with food, Raed and I are the perfect foodies.”

Homemade Middle Eastern food is something Rania said she hasn’t seen much in Ithaca, especially in Collegetown. The menu is a careful selection of all the dishes she loves to make and eat, which she says helps with the cooking process.

Raed said that their next step aside from hiring a staff is to work on the catering side of things. While Loumies is on delivery apps, they haven’t seen many orders and are relying on walk-in customers, at least for now. “As far as our expectations, we’re right on target and doing well. We’re happy,” he said.

Loumies is located at 114 Dryden Road and is open seven days a week for walk-ins, pick-up or delivery.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...