Community members raise more than $13,000 for vandalized Middle Eastern Bakery

The window of Middle Eastern Bakery was smashed on Dec. 3. In one day, community members raised over $10,000. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Scattered on the outside of the door were a few encouraging post-it notes written in reaction to the vandalization. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Owner Isam Saed is comforted by a customer. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Sean David Christensen talks about childhood memories attached to Middle Eastern Bakery. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Claire Wiss and her daughter Maya were among the throngs of people who visited Middle Eastern Bakery on Dec. 5. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Wooden carvings of nativity scenes, rosaries, prints of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper painting, and a portrait of the Virgin Mary are clustered throughout the shop. (Nicole Neri/DD)

A picture of Saed (middle) and a bundle of wooden rosaries hangs from the doorway of Middle Eastern Bakery's seating area. (Nicole Neri/DD)

The establishment remained busy even after closing time. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Downtown resident Marnee Burrus visited Middle Eastern Bakery, as she often did, on Saturday morning because she had “a hankering” for a honey lemonade. Immediately, she was greeted by a basketball-sized starburst crack in the storefront window.

After giving owner Isam Saed some encouraging words, she called for support on Facebook. She hoped a few friends would come to show Saed and his store support and enjoy some honey lemonade.

Within one day, her post was shared over one thousand times.

As a result of Burrus and others, community members raised more than $13,000 in funds for repairs — exceeding the original $1,500 goal.

A GoFundMe page created by Phoenix resident Kym Ventola in response to the damage garnered almost $10,000 from 390 people in the first day alone. The funds now total more than $13,000, and the page has been shared more than 5,000 times on Facebook. According to the GoFundMe page, M&M Glass has donated a replacement window, so the money will be used to install a security system.

“I was so angry…I saw something upsetting and I said something about it,” Burrus said.

Although a motive for the vandalism has not been officially discovered, some suspect it to be a form of hate crime. Owner Isam Saed said a similar event occurred about a year ago, during which two windows were smashed.

Saed said the support from the community was “overwhelming,” and it made him feel as if the vandalism had not even happened.

“(It) made me feel that the love in people’s hearts will overcome,” Saed said. “Love always in every way overcomes hatred and anger.”

He said he felt this support not just from the surrounding neighborhood, but all of Phoenix. Some customers drove more than 40 miles to the restaurant’s location at 16th street and Earll Drive to show their support Monday.

Burrus said she only meant to get some of her friends to show support and buy some lemonade and falafel, but the community’s response was immediate.

“I feel really, really lucky that I live in a community like this,” Saed said.

Several of the patrons at the bakery expressed the sentimental value they felt for the place.

Customer and active member of the downtown storytelling community Sean David Christensen said he and his mother had a tradition of renting Blockbuster movies and eating Middle Eastern Bakery pita bread, which created some of his “most endearing childhood memories.”

The shop remained busy for most of the day Monday, and customers often stepped behind the counter to give Saed hugs, handshakes and words of support.

The lines reached the back of the store for much of the day, but Saed took time with each of the customers who spoke to him, consistently asking if they were hungry. He continued to serve customers well after closing time.

Christensen said “hate just comes from ignorance,” and he felt the vandals don’t see the people behind the glass.

“If they got to know him, they’d realize what an absolute treasure Isam is … if I keep talking about it I’m going to cry,” Christensen said. “People who commit acts of hate only know hate.”

Longtime customer Alisa Ilardo and her young children visited the bakery to show support to Saed. She said they have been coming there since before her 10-year-old son was born.

She said her son loves the food so much that Middle Eastern Bakery catered his birthday party several years ago. Ilardo donated to the GoFundMe campaign Monday morning.

“When this happens to someone who’s that kind to everybody, it’s horrible,” she said. “They deserve every penny.”

Lyft driver Evan Sallustro referred to the shop as “a staple of the neighborhood.”

“As a person who loves Westerns, this is why,” Saed said. “Because always good overcomes evil. That is the American tradition.”

Burrus said that she just wanted the community to show Saed and his bakery that “we’re behind you, and we want you here.”

After the doors were finally locked, almost an hour after the official closing time, Saed stayed to take a picture with one last customer. He said his goal was to make sure everyone left smiling.

“We make our food with love,” Saed said. “I want people to have an experience, not just have food to make their stomachs full.”

Contact the reporter at Nicole.Neri@asu.edu.