Building Economic Sustainability through Tourism Project

Iskandarani Café and Restaurant showcases authentic As-Salt heritage

1 Jan 2019
Mohammed Bakeer

Iskandarani Café and Restaurant showcases authentic As-Salt heritage

“My goal is to create a space that has a cultural focal point, where people can come to learn about and experience the heritage of As-Salt,” stated Mohammed Bakeer, owner of Iskandarani Café and Restaurant, “I love my city and want to share it with others.”

Iskandarani Café and Restaurant is a family and youth-oriented establishment in the heart of As-Salt. With its traditional music, décor and local dishes; visitors are immediately engulfed in the traditions and heritage of As-Salt when they walk through the door. In 2017, Mr. Bakeer convinced his father to allow him to open Iskandarani Café in the family’s old sweets factory that closed over 30 years ago.

Mr. Bakeer’s travels for five years as a shipman allowed him to experience various cultures and heritages and gave him more of an appreciation for his own culture and traditions. His initial idea was to open a café, but he soon saw the potential to incorporate all aspects of As-Salt’s heritage that he loves. In his efforts to create a memorable culture and tradition hub in As-Salt, he added the restaurant to the establishment, offering an authentic food experience through serving local cuisine such as Sajiyatt, Sawani, Galayeh Bandora, Musakhen, and his family’s charcoal Kunafa recipe.

According to Mr. Bakeer, “Going to As-Salt without visiting Hamam Street is like going to Aqaba without visiting the sea. The street is an essential aspect of As-Salt’s identity.”

Although the establishment’s location was ideal, the lack of resources stunted many of Mr. Bakeer’s hopes for the café and restaurant. “There was limited seating, dated appliances, and an overall aged physical appearance,” stated Mr. Bakeer. This put constraints not only on the number of visitors, but also on the cultural activities that were able to be hosted in Iskandarani.

USAID BEST, in coordination with the Salt Development Corporations (SDC), began supporting the establishment’s development as part of a continuous effort to introduce authentic experiences in the center of the city.  As of November 2018, furnishing and physical upgrades of Iskandarani Cafe and Restaurant have concluded and are currently operating on a soft-opening basis. Further USAID BEST support will include the development of additional activities, marketing efforts, as well as offering capacity building workshops covering operation management, safe-food handling and customer service skills in collaboration with SDC.

The café and restaurant are beginning to make impressions on the local community and Mr. Bakeer is seeing more and more visitors from outside of As-Salt as well as from other countries. “The café is a magnificent place to visit! It is situated in a central location, yet offers privacy, hospitality, and is full of As-Salt’s culture and heritage,” stated a local visitor, “yet, none of this would have the added value without Mr. Bakeer who is a very welcoming and a great role-model for ambitious youth.”

Mr. Bakeer’s upcoming plans are to introduce a small library and a book club as a permanent part of the establishment. He also envisions collaborating with embassies to host cultural days for Middle Eastern countries. This will not only help him share the history, traditions and heritage of As-salt, but create the identity for the establishment as a learning space as well as foster a spirit of curiosity about other cultures and traditions in the region.

 “Iskandarani, to me, is not about having a business, it is about sharing our heritage and traditions and increasing the number of visitors to our wonderful city.”