Destined to Be

The owner of Downtown Cairo—a Mediterranean food-truck-turned-restaurant that serves authentic Egyptian, Greek, and Middle Eastern food.

Downtown Cairo is a Lesson in Taking Chances and Having Faith

Photos by Ashlee Glen

I always had a dream of opening a brick-and-mortar place,” Samir Elazazy said. 

The owner of Downtown Cairo—a Mediterranean food-truck-turned-restaurant that serves authentic Egyptian, Greek, and Middle Eastern food—Samir and his wife, Emily, opened their new, permanent location in December 2023.

“We opened our food truck in May 2021,” Emily explained. “We were in Appomattox for about six months and got an offer to go to The BackYard [in Forest] in November 2021.”

The journey from food truck to restaurant, which is located in Graves Mill Shopping Center, has been quick, with the Elazazys embracing every step.

Before starting the food truck, Samir had worked for Cook Out for 10 years in various positions, including General Manager. As he worked his way up within the chain, he learned the intricacies of running and operating a growing and successful restaurant—knowledge that proved invaluable when the food truck opened for business nearly three years ago.

“We started the truck because of the kids,” Samir and Emily said nearly in unison referring to their three daughters, ages three, five, and eight.

“It’s a really beautiful journey because I’m able to share a lot with them,” continued Samir. “My oldest comes to events with us. It was really cool to have them alongside us and sharing our dreams together. It’s an important message to them to do what you love and don’t be afraid.”

When the Elazazys decided to transition from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar location, they knew it would be a leap of faith.

“I didn’t have any money saved up to open a store,” Samir said. “So I asked God to lead the way. I called a real estate agent just to look.”

The realtor showed the Elazazys two locations, but neither gave them a confident feeling. On a whim, the agent showed them a third location that day.

“It was the perfect one,” Samir remembered. “We came here, and I said, ‘This is it.’”

With little money saved but a lot of gumption, the Elazazys were challenged with figuring out how to make their dream a reality. They offered their truck up for sale with the terms that they keep it until the end of the year with money up front and they approached the owner of the Graves Mill location with an ambitious offer.

“I knew there was no way either would be accepted. But they were,” Samir said with a gracious smile.

From the moment the dotted line was signed for 18013 Forest Road A03, it took three weeks to open. The steps for retrofitting the space into a functional counter-service restaurant fell together seamlessly and on December 21st they opened their doors.

The menu is almost identical to that of the former food truck, with customer favorites like the shawarma plate and gyros wrapped in fluffy pita. 

“We like our small menu,” Samir explained. “It gives customers the opportunity to pick and choose, but not overwhelm.”

Samir was born in Alexandria—the second largest city in Egypt and the largest city on the Mediterranean coast—and moved to the Lynchburg area when he was 15. Alexandria is a melting pot for cultures and flavors, with Greek, Italian, and Egyptian influences weaving themselves into the local cuisine. But at the heart of Downtown Cairo is Egyptian food.

“I developed my passion for cooking from my mom,” Samir said. “When I left home, I didn’t know how to cook, so my mom would tell me what ingredients to get and I would FaceTime her for hours going step-by-step making everything.”

Many of the recipes found on Downtown Cairo’s menu are derived from those FaceTime cooking lessons, though Samir is quick to admit he still hasn’t cooked for his mother, who still lives in Egypt.

“I can follow her recipes exactly and they still won’t taste as good as hers,” Samir laughed.

Samir says his mother is very proud of the journey Downtown Cairo has taken, and it’s a journey he and Emily have enjoyed sharing with their children, as well.

“There are a lot of challenges out there,” he said. “A lot of things could have stopped us, but we don’t believe in that. And, of course, God is always in the center of our lives. We want our kids to make decisions based on what God guided them to do.”

The Elazazys hope that their new Graves Mill location is just the next chapter in a long story for Downtown Cairo. In the next four or five years, they hope to expand to three locations all within the Lynchburg regional footprint. But, for now, Samir and Emily are content running one growing location side by side and creating a working environment for their staff that is uplifting and healthy.

“God will open those doors when it’s time,” Samir said.  

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