Written by Emily Glaser | Photos by Anthony Harden
Thanks to a pair of immigrant brothers—Hashim and Farouk Badr—two of downtown Asheville’s anchor establishments remain beacons of karma, kindness, and balance.
The idea of destiny has been debunked. No longer do we see ourselves as mere feathers on a breeze of circumstances, but rather foremen consciously dictating the paths of our lives—which makes it all the more deliciously serendipitous when our paths do tread the lines of stereotype.
Hence the charm of Asheville’s Badr brothers, who fit as snugly into their roles of big brother-little brother as engine pistons or rubber gloves. Hashim, the dignified elder draped in blazers and airs of the studious professor, acts with slow intention and carefully planted words, steps, and smiles. Farouk, aka Frank, sports a baseball cap that seems to befit his name; he speaks quickly, sincerely, and frenetically, and proffers a roguish grin at whim. Even their professions align with providence: Hashim, the pharmacist; Frank, the restaurateur; careers that feel almost fictional in their aptness.
Their seemingly predestined adherence to their roles as siblings is all the more compelling because it stands in such stark contrast to the rest of their respective stories, in which both brothers have repeatedly defied the presumptions of fate. Both left their native Jerusalem to seek a different life in the United States, then left the Southeast’s larger metropolises for ‘70s era Asheville, and, in the greatest gauntlet-drop against fate of all, both opened businesses in a then-derelict downtown that have since grown into local institutions. Throughout their lives, when the path diverged, both chose to take the road less traveled with the type of defiant dedication that would have made Frost proud.
As the entrepreneurs behind Asheville Discount Pharmacy (established 1982) and Jerusalem Garden (1993, when it was known as Superette), Hashim and Frank, respectively, were forebears of a new downtown and are now, as the neighborhood enters its next era, prudent and cautionary elders and cornerstones of the community. To weather the changing tides of Asheville, the Badr brothers, despite their differences, lean across the table to declare firmly the same secret to success: dedication to community.
In an era when immigration is so contested, the Badr brothers stand as a testament to the positive impact diversity can have upon a community. As some of Asheville’s earliest immigrant business owners, Hashim and Frank brought new perspectives, culture, and flavor to a little mountain town.
But perhaps more importantly, they brought compassion and connection to a community when we needed (and still need) it most.
The immigration story of the Badr family is a string of pearls. Hashim still has a ‘40s-era letter from an uncle in Boston addressed to his father in what was then Palestine. It was this uncle who sponsored the Badrs’ father to emigrate in 1949. Hashim followed in 1963, and Frank and their other siblings—Seham, Nohal, and Sam—around 1970.
Once they arrived in the States, the brothers set tender roots in the Southeast. Hashim found work as a quality control lab tech at Cryovac (now part of Sealed Air Corporation) in Simpsonville, near Greenville, South Carolina. The company encouraged him to attend college, and he took classes at Clemson University while working full-time. When Hashim became less interested in the competitive chemical engineering field, he decided to pursue pharmacy instead. Cryovac granted him a leave of absence while he undertook his doctor of pharmacy at the University of Georgia.
Meanwhile, Frank had settled in Greenville, too, and was working at a cousin’s clothing store. In 1974 the cousin decided to open a second location of Breakaway Boutique at the new Asheville Mall, and Frank became the manager—and the first of the Badrs in Asheville. Hashim followed in 1976 when he landed an internship, and then full-time employment, with the drugstore chain Eckerd. In 1981 he was tapped to manage the pharmacy’s downtown location at 31 Patton Avenue.
It may have been the Asheville Mall that first brought the Badrs to Western North Carolina, but it was also the mall that indirectly influenced their first venture into local entrepreneurship. As was the case in so many small cities of the early ‘80s, the mall drew customers and traffic away from downtown and into its more suburban centers, causing old school mainstays—including Eckerd, which had been at its Patton Avenue location for 50 years—to shutter operations. Despite the inauspicious outlook of downtown Asheville’s business district—and arguably, the pull of fate—the close of one pharmacy prompted Hashim to open his own.
“When they closed in ‘82, I said, ‘I want to open a pharmacy,’” he says, recalling how Eckerd’s customers, many of whom were second or third generation patrons, bemoaned the loss of the downtown institution. “[My boss] said, ‘You have two children and a good salary.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but by the time they grow, if my business is successful, I could take care of them better than just this salary.’ He said, ‘Good luck!’” Hashim presents this decades old send-off with a raise of his hands, conveying his boss’ skepticism across the years.
But that skepticism, it turns out, was favorably misplaced. Hashim, with a baby at home and another on the way, opened Asheville Discount Pharmacy at 57 Haywood Street in 1982. When he did so, he joined a small rank of dewy business owners just crazy enough to set up shop downtown, including his new neighbors at Malaprops, Bloomin’ Art, and Gentleman’s Gallery. Downtown rents were nominal (Hashim’s was just $400), which neutralized the neighborhood’s tumbleweed-quiet traffic—and actually helped establish what are some of the area’s most long-standing and beloved businesses.
When rents rose at the Asheville Mall (a common theme for the Badrs), Frank closed the boutique and joined his brother downtown at the pharmacy. But, true to that little brother tableau, he craved his own opportunity—which came in the early ‘90s, when he was given the chance to rent a space, 78 Patton Avenue, for just $350. Frank considered opening a beauty salon (“I didn’t know anything about the beauty salons!” he laughs), but landed, instead, on a simple sandwich shop modeled after the delis of New York.
“I used to travel to New York, and I saw their delis and good food and the reuben and rye bread. So, really, I was impressed at that time, but I never had any idea how to open [my own],” he remembers. That didn’t stop him from doing it.
In 1994 Frank, with the help of his sister, Nohal, and Hashim’s wife, Kathy, opened Superette, selling sandwiches like those northern delis and preparing traditional Middle Eastern dishes like tabbouleh, hummus, and baba ghanoush, as well as selling imported spices, rugs, and jewelry. The business quickly adapted and evolved to suit its customers. “The hippie people would pass by, seriously…” Kathy pauses to nod against a laugh as she describes the early days of Superette and explains the diners’ unique requests: “I never knew there was a hummus and tabbouleh sandwich!” She learned to put hummus on sandwiches and deli meats in pita pockets, and the local community learned to love these new flavors that were foreign to Asheville palates. Nohal returned to the Holy Land and Kathy transitioned to work with Hashim at the pharmacy, but the business continued to grow.
By the early 2000s, both Asheville Discount Pharmacy and Superette were downtown mainstays with foundations strong enough to weather transitions. In 2001 Hashim moved the pharmacy to a new location with high ceilings and historic charm at 76 Patton Avenue. Yes, right next door to Frank.
Soon thereafter, Frank decided to turn the deli into a full-fledged restaurant, and Jerusalem Garden was born. With an expansive menu of refashioned Middle Eastern dishes and a stunning, crimson tent imported from Egypt, Frank’s updated concept continued to bring new flavors to Asheville—and more work. “Then you have to have dishwashers, waitstaff, host. And really the headache started, to be honest with you,” he says, smiling, as he leans back in his chair.
The problems that the Badrs faced upon first opening their businesses downtown decades ago have paradoxically reversed: Where before there was too little traffic, today there is too much. In the past, Asheville’s palates craved Americanized adaptations; nowadays, they hunger for authentic dishes. Rents are rising downtown, pushing businesses back out to those suburban peripheries, as corporate chains compete for real estate in the desirable neighborhood.
As might be expected, the brothers have taken different measures to counter the latest challenges posed by the maturation and burgeoning growth of downtown: Hashim, steady consistency; Frank, adaptive evolution.
The Present: Asheville Discount Pharmacy
Asheville Discount Pharmacy is a family business in every sense of the word, and it is in this that their continued success lies. It is still owned and managed by the Badr family: Hashim, Kathy, and their youngest daughter, Nur Edwards, who became the business’ second pharmacist in 2015 and is set to take over the business when Hashim someday retires. The employees are like family, too, receiving guidance and the occasional meal from their bosses. “We don’t have a lot of turnover, and that speaks for itself. We look out for each other,” Nur says. “You don’t have that big work environment where we have some fancy Christmas party, but someone’s always feeding us. My mom and dad really are the parents to everyone.”
And then there are the customers, who get greeted almost invariably with recognition and genuineness. It feels clichéd to claim that a store’s customers are like family, but here, it rings true. Hashim recognizes most clients, greeting them by name and with his signature slow smile. “Some of my dad’s first customers that [we] have known since I was a baby have been our customers long enough to meet my kids. And I feel like you just don’t get to make lifelong connections at most jobs, so it’s pretty special to me,” Nur attests.
The Badrs actually care for their customers like family, exhibiting the type of compassion that, in 2020, can seem increasingly abandoned by the American medical establishment and the insurance industry. Hashim recalls a recent customer who couldn’t afford her medication: “She walked in, dressed up, you could say she was upper middle class, and she’s crying… looks [are] deceiving,” he says. When she came to pick up her prescription, Hashim waived her payment. “Do I regret it? No. If I saved her life, God bless her.”
In part because of the business’ location in the heart of downtown, Asheville Discount Pharmacy also caters frequently to homeless and mental health populations, and here, their genuine generosity is once again evident. Sometimes these customers have Medicaid or Medicare, or use other local systems for help, but oftentimes, even with assistance, they don’t have enough money for their co-pay. “Their co-pays can be under $8, but sometimes when you’re homeless, you don’t have $8,” Nur says. “We’re required to bill them for their medications. So if they don’t have money, we still put it on an account, and then we request for a certain amount of time that they make a payment on that account. But if they don’t have money, then we do our best to provide it to them.”
Because they’re a family-owned business as opposed to a piece of a corporate enterprise, the Badrs have the flexibility to choose this path, which is restricted to most pharmacists. “It’s hard, because a lot of times you’re not in any position to make that decision, especially if you’re in a corporate setting, or even if you’re not, but you don’t have that level of responsibility,” Nur explains. “It seems like a silly barrier when someone’s copay is $1.25. So many people have come together to get you to this point: You’ve received medical care, you’ve gotten to the pharmacy, and so in that situation, it’s kind of hard to just say, ‘No.’”
And so, they say, “Yes,” providing medications to a population that, while they truly need the prescriptions, would otherwise not be in a position to receive them.
In the spirit of karma and kindness, Hashim attributes much of the business’ success to this benevolence. “I preach this because what you do comes back to you,” he explains, palms open, his smile playing at the corners of his lips. “If you go and be nice to people, I think almighty God will help you. Maybe it’s not coming to you directly or the same day, but you can eventually see it.”
Whereas the majority of businesses downtown, particularly breweries and restaurants, pay penance to the fickle dictates of tourists, Asheville Discount Pharmacy continues to build on their longstanding customer base instead. “We have good walk-in traffic, like we sell something they need, especially the tourists. But most of our business comes from the local community—the steady customers we have,” says Hashim, noting that while profits may vacillate nominally from month to month, the big picture doesn’t really fluctuate. “We have a stable business and we appeal to everyone: social services, walk-in traffic, local community downtown. We sometimes even draw people from Fletcher, Arden, [and] Candler.”
That’s not to say tourism hasn’t impacted the business at all; the lack of parking, for example, has proved to be a particularly frustrating challenge as parking decks and metered spots fill up daily. Convenience and efficiency are increasingly important to customers, and that’s an area where the Badrs find it hard to compete. “Some stores, like the chains, have turned pharmacy into fast food. If you can just go through a drive-thru, why would you come fight for parking if we’re not going to offer something?” says Nur.
That “something” is old-fashioned service, but it’s also competitive pricing. When it comes to insurance, Asheville Discount Pharmacy can’t compete with the big guys (even the big guys can’t compete with the big guys, Hashim points out, using the CVS buyout of Target’s pharmacies as an example). In fact, it’s the red tape and endless tasks required by insurance companies that are the greatest plague on the Badrs. But for the uninsured, the business offers a welcome reprieve from soaring pharmaceutical prices. “We could save people money who don’t have insurance, sometimes a big savings, 20 percent or more,” Hashim says. “We have a small store, so we have less overhead than the big stores, the anchor stores. That helps us to give a lower price.” That discount, along with know-your-name level service, woos customers to the pharmacy.
Since 1982, this tactic has promised Hashim success, and it’s Nur’s approach, too. The pharmacy has adapted to evolutions of the industry, of course—they recently began offering immunizations and medication management, such as consultations and blister packing, and Hashim’s long considered adding veterinary compounding to their services (installation would be expensive and regulations abound, but since it’s all uninsured, it could be a profitable venture). But the business operates largely the same today as it did when downtown’s landscape was drastically different. Delivering superior customer service and reliable consistency across the decades have proved (and still prove) fruitful.
“Mostly you have to stick to it and be nice, treat people with kindess, and they’ll continue to support you,” Hashim smiles.
The Present: Jerusalem Garden
In Japan, where chronic earthquakes are a dangerous nuisance, engineers have developed so-called “levitating foundations.” When the earth moves, the foundation holds firm even as it allows the superstructure above to shake, move, and adapt to the sudden shifts in physics. It’s an apt metaphor for Frank Badr’s Jerusalem Garden.
Where Hashim has built a sturdy foundation of constancy, Frank’s business is fleet-footed and adaptive. That’s largely because of the capricious nature of restauranteering; eateries, concepts, and even ingredients are hot, then they’re not, the epicures’ passions cooling faster than a skewered kabob. To stay au courant, restaurants have to adapt, and fast.
In Asheville it’s not just that the restaurant scene has changed since Frank opened Superette in the ‘90s—it’s that it was born. “It wasn’t much restaurants at the time, but now on every corner there is a restaurant,” Frank gesticulates. “And the culinary aspect, I believe we have good, good chefs, good people who are working.” Since he first opened his deli, and even since he transitioned to Jerusalem Garden nearly 20 years ago, Asheville has been flooded with James Beard-nominated chefs and adventurous cooks behind restaurants plating a wide spectrum of flavors that go far beyond Appalachian vittles. That’s increased the influx of epicurean tourists, particularly downtown, that has helped buoy businesses like Jerusalem Garden.
While the city’s expansive culinary scene has undoubtedly brought a boom to the economy and proprietors like Frank, it has also brought with it a series of new challenges. Like so many restaurateurs, he laments the shortage of experienced and dedicated kitchen help: “Asheville is lacking the ones who could be assistants to the chefs, who could be line cooks, the prep people, who can take the chef’s ideas and apply them,” he says. Here, Frank does wish for consistency, where line cooks and servers can implement the visions of the chefs and restaurateurs every time. “Honestly, I can say it: In my mind and in my heart, I believe every restaurant in downtown Asheville is suffering from the [shortage of] professional help. And it is not a secret to tell you that.” Coupled with the rise of expenses—not just rent, but the rising costs of food, supplies, salaries—and an increasingly competitive field as more and more restaurants open downtown, and everyone is faced with the near insurmountable challenge of offering the experience they pride while maintaining a living.
At Jerusalem Garden, that experience is delivered via its dishes, ambiance, and its chummy approach to customers. Like his brother, Frank operates Jerusalem Garden as a distinctly family business, pouring his heart into his recipes, service, and his employees. “I don’t consider [that] the employees are working for me—they are working with me,” he says. “And I trust them and I believe in them. When somebody leaves, I am affected by that.” But unlike Hashim, Frank doesn’t plan to pass his business on to the next generation. “The restaurant profession, it is nice. You cook with your taste and you cook with your eyes. And sometimes you could make people happy when they eat their meal,” he says when asked why his sons, currently 12 and seven, aren’t necessarily in his business plan. “But it is a very, very draining, hard business. Mentally, physically, it is very tough to survive in business if you are a perfectionist.”
And so, Frank adapts even while operating within the valued tenets of his family business. As always, the menu at Jerusalem Garden is a veritable melting pot in the truest sense of the word. The menu places Middle Eastern dishes alongside American classics, particularly at brunch, where you could order a plate of biscuits & gravy or shakshuka with pita, hummus, and poached eggs, drizzled with an herby tomato sauce. Everything is made from scratch and adheres to the demanding tastes of Frank, his wife Sonia (“Sonia is really good at recipes—not [just] because she’s my wife—and desserts. She is daaarn good,” Frank grins), and Chef Chris. While dedicated customers have developed favorites, Frank also recognizes that the menu needs to evolve, and he’ll unveil its latest iteration come this spring. The Middle Eastern dishes will remain, joined by new North African recipes served in clay tajines.
Over the years, Frank’s business has been consistent only in his evolution, as he shifted the menu, added belly dancing, and shifted the menu again. “We’re trying every year to go a notch or a step higher. Hopefully, you’ll keep moving, you know what I mean? Just like in exercise. You exercise your physical body to stay fit, and the restaurant, you gotta keep it moving,” he says, with a smile.
And that’s what he plans to keep doing. “How do we know in 15, 20, years what will happen? Is food gonna be delivered to the homes? Is fast food gonna flourish and going to be mostly delivery? I really don’t know… But I think the smart person, he doesn’t have to be a scientist, but he’s gonna read and understand the trend and sort of vibe with it. Adapt. You must adapt to the trend. So here, I’m going to try to adapt.”
The Future: It’s All About Community
As fun as it is to point to their predestined roles as brothers in explaining their approach to business, the truth is that both Hashim and Farouk Badr provide exactly what their customers need, the way they want it. In pharmacy, it’s medicine delivered without frills, but with genuine connection and compassion; in dining, it’s good food made fast and offered with a smile. The brothers are both well-suited for their industries, but it’s just as likely that their jobs made them as it is that they made their jobs.
While their careers pose a chicken-or-egg style puzzle, their prioritization of community is instead of that path-less-taken ilk. In the midst of the 21st century’s hustle-bustle and hyper-connectivity, it feels a little wholesome to present an unwavering dedication to sincerity and service as the secret to success, but both brothers do just that. It’s an approach that’s increasingly against the grain, but in fact all the Badrs, including Kathy and Nur, pose community as their top priority.
It’s how Hashim answers when asked about establishing the business, his marketing plans, why his daughters returned to Asheville (all three are recognizable figures in the Asheville business landscape), and even retaining the venture’s independence in the face of corporate buy-outs. When one of these corps called and asked to make Hashim an offer he couldn’t refuse, he refused to even hear it. “I said, ‘Community’s worth a lot more than you offer me. So I’m not going to even start.’ So up to this minute, I never have entertained an offer, and I have no interest. If we all cut and run, then we have no community.”
And now the Badrs are turning to their beloved community to strike the chord of another concept on which they all agree: balance.
Like so many local business owners, they recognize the perils of the unfettered growth of downtown. They’ve watched as family businesses like their own have collapsed under the rise of rents and real estate in the neighborhood. But the Badrs don’t fear the arrival of corporate interests so much as unchecked greed, and they aren’t calling for regulation, just a reprioritization of harmony, and a commitment to cultivating conscious, mindful growth in Asheville.
“We need balance. How do we do this? Maybe all the community needs to get involved,” says Hashim. They’re turning to the community they’ve helped cultivate to now help entrepreneurial businesses like theirs continue to survive in an ever-changing field.
The Badrs have always acted against the presumptions of fate, most recently marked by their decision to continue to operate in a marketplace that seems to be rapidly shifting against businesses like theirs. But, as always, their success lies in that narrowing path of prioritizing other people. “It’s good you have your own business because you don’t have a boss, and at the same time, you can contribute to the community without asking the permission of somebody else,” Hashim says, emphatically. “You have to give to the community. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much you make; you have to give to the community.”
When asked of his secret to success, Frank’s answer is the same: “I believe success is how you understand and care for people.”
Perhaps it’s a concept best explained with a simpler, monosyllabic notion: home. After traveling across continents and through the decades, the Badrs have vested their hearts and interests in the people and places of Western North Carolina.
Hashim puts it this way: “I don’t think of any other place besides [Asheville] for home.”
And that explains it all.
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