MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — At the risk of sounding sacrilegious: taking a pilgrimage to Holy Land in Northeast Minneapolis just for the chicken would leave you full, yet somehow empty.
Holy Land is far more than just the restaurant: It’s a one-of-a-kind butcher shop and grocery store, bringing Middle Eastern flavors to the Midwest. It’s also a production facility, where every day they turn 2,500 pounds of dry chickpeas into the now legendary Holy Land Hummus.
“This is my baby,” said “mama” Fatima Wadi, the matriarch of the family business. Her son, Wajdi Wadi, came to Minneapolis from Kuwait to go to college at Moorehead State University. When he graduated in finance and marketing, he moved to Minneapolis and founded Holy Land in 1986 in a small Northeast Minneapolis storefront.
When “Mama Fatima” came to the United States, her recipes found a home at the Holy Land, in a time when most Midwesterners were not familiar with hummus.
“We didn’t know people would like it, I used to follow people and beg them to try hummus,” said Mama Fatima, as her granddaughter Lianne Wadi translated.
Wajdi’s brother, Majdi Wadi, came to Minneapolis from Jordan in 1995, and took a look at how international businesses were running their operations all across the United States.
“I didn’t like what I saw,” said Majdi. “They’re only catering to their own ethnic group, which I didn’t like.”
The Wajdi brothers took a different approach with Holy Land. “From day one we decided to cater to everyone in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, as our community,” Majdi said.
Today, there are three generations of Wadis running the business. Lianne Wadi runs catering and the restaurant, Saeed is the general manager of the main grocery store, as well as satellite Holy Land operations at the airport and Midtown Global Market, and his sister, Rana Wadi, is in charge of the hummus manufacturing.
“I am unbelievably proud,” Majdi said. “When they were kids they used to play here and work here, that was their own choice to stay here and run the business.”
The restaurant has had national attention: Guy Fieri went crazy for their rotisserie chickens, marinated for 72 hours and roasted over a grill with charcoal and wood.
“It’s too beautiful to eat, but you have to,” said Lianne, who explained the restaurant typically is roasting 16 birds at a time. “We have a lot of customers who come in from North Dakota, Chicago, Ohio, just to eat this bird.”
The grocery store imports their vegetarian fed meats, the beef and lamb from New Zealand, they import olive oil under their own brand name from Lebanon, the cheese selection is global.
“You can see the Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Irani, then you can see the Middle Eastern,” Saeed Wadi said.
They make pita and Lebanese breads fresh every day, which they also used to have to relentlessly sample to encourage Minnesotans to try.
The hummus manufacturing operation produces for major grocery stores and retailers, including a special room that creates original and red pepper hummus just for Costco.
It’s running “6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, five days a week. That’s a lot of hummus,” said Rana Wadi. They soak dried chickpeas overnight, then boil them, reduce temperatures, and puree them for at least 10 minutes. There are no preservatives: just pureed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and lemon. “We want the texture to be just right. I taste every batch to make sure it’s up to our quality,” she added.
The quality is incredible. But more importantly, the Wadis leave an incredible family legacy. Mama. Sons. Grandkids.
“We’re gonna keep going, keep going,” Saeed said. “We have different ideas, we’re a new generation. At the same time, we honor our parents, they worked their asses off,” he added. “We are the future, we want to do something great for the city that’s done so much for us.”
2513 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis,
9 a.m. -9 p.m. daily