The newly remodeled interior of Al Masri,
formerly known as the Grapeleaf.
See new upstair in photo below

The Gilded Serpent presents...
Sausan's Saga
at The Grapeleaf Restaurant
by Dhyanis

San Francisco's atmospheric Grapeleaf Restaurant will soon reopen as Al Masri (The Egyptian), fully renovated and redecorated, with a shift from the former Lebanese to an all-new Egyptian theme and menu. Phoenix-like, arising from the ashes of a dreadful divorce and forced closure, petite and spunky owner-operator Sausan has persevered and returns stronger than ever with her new partner from Egypt. That new partner, Hatem, from Alexandria in Egypt, had previously been a steady customer at the former Grapeleaf. When he saw it flounder, he told Sausan he could help "turn it around". The walls were formerly covered with tapestries and the largest collection of camel artifacts ever crammed between four walls along with plants that flourished, then died. These same walls now are graced with Egyptian motifs of Hatem's artistry. The kitchen will serve up his favorite family recipes.

We at Gilded Serpent wanted to know more about Sausan; she was gracious and candid during our several interviews as we pried into" herstory" and private affairs! She said that her mother was 2nd Lieutenant in the Women's Air Corps during WWII. After the war she flew to Guam, where her intended husband was employed, and married him there. He was a civil engineer whose expertise was "horizontal construction" of airports and roads. His work took the family to Madrid when Sausan was one year old. By age four, she was learning Flamenco and Alegrias - with castanets! Next stop

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Thailand, where Thai classical dance was on the school curriculum until she was 15, when they moved back to Marysville, California, (where she studied Scottish sword dance). Finally out of high school she was drawn to a belly dance class in Sacramento with Jodette, and soon began performing (at a local biker bar in Lodi). In 1977 Sausan moved to San Francisco - her day job title was Tape Librarian for the U.S. Postal Data Center. She began classes with Nakish, an exquisite and accomplished African-American woman with flamboyant Egyptian styling. By 1980 Sausan was one of the North Beach regulars, dancing nightly at the famous Baghdad on Broadway and The Greek Taverna on Columbus, as well as for Eastern Onion Singing Telegram Service. She had also attended the now infamous EST Training, which she credits with the raw gumption it took to get over her fears and get out there! ("OK I'm a scared little sh**, so why not be one while out experiencing life rather than be that at home?"). Among her North Beach memories is the evening she arrived to bloodstained furniture being cleaned where a noted patron had been unobtrusively stabbed to death during the previous night's revelry.

In 1984 she auditioned for Gabe Michael, Lebanese-American owner of The Grapeleaf. By 1986 she quit her day job to marry Gabe. (Here I tried to comment on the vast cultural gap between American Woman and Middle Eastern Man, but Sausan insists now that Gabe was a full-blooded American chauvinist). Sausan become a full partner in the restaurant, as well as frequent performer. She began packaging and distributing a line of appetizers to health and gourmet markets (e.g. hummus and baba ganooj) under the trademark "Culinary Clyde's", after the restaurant's mascot, Clyde the Camel. Every year she sponsored "Christmas with Clyde and Friends" which included an all-day workshop and evening performances by nationally known dancers such as Amaya, Sahra, etc. Many dance events have been catered by Sausan, including Desert Dance Festival in San Jose, (September) and Festival Fantasia in Sebastapol, (October). Who could forget the biannual belly dance flea market! There we discovered Sausan sold a collection of cloisonné dancer pins (still available). Meanwhile, Sausan also served as Petty Officer in the Navy Reserves from 1978 to 1998, during which she performed on bases the world over, including both the North and South Poles (hence her nickname the "Bipolar Belly Dancer"). During the Gulf War She was in ready reserve status while servicing and refueling aircraft in the U.S.

If that were not enough, she found energy to publish internationally, "Sausan's Resource Directory Guide for Belly Dancers", as well as a quarterly newsletter of local events (now called "Mohamed Ali Street Corner Quarterly"). These were put on the "back burner" during the three-year crisis of divorce proceedings. At first Gabe evicted her from the Grapeleaf Restaurant and claimed all rights to her publications. When he went back to his family in Florida (1995), she formally bought the lease and became the "leaseholder" or "landlord". In 1997 she then filed a restraining order to exclude Gabe while she opened the restaurant Sunday nights only, with live music and dancing (primarily for dance teachers to bring students to experience live performance). Those nights we saw her working in the kitchen, literally "sweating over a hot stove"!

The court eventually awarded to Sausan all the at-risk permits, licenses and revenues generated by her meticulously culled mailing list of 10,000. She recently sent a gracious letter of apology to all of her advertisers with discounted rates to recompense for the lapse in publication. She is striving to get the magazine out again by the end of this year.

Sausan's target date for re-opening her restaurant is November 26. With the expert help of her partner, Sausan has cleaned, re-wired, re-plumbed. She has re-painted, re-upholstered, and has also installed two new sound systems (one for live and one for taped music). The cozy, 49-seat restaurant now reflects the glorious days of ancient Egypt. The extensive menu includes traditional Egyptian dishes such as Mulokhia (leafy green plant called Jewish mellow or jute plant), U'Ass (turnip plant), Bamyia (okra), Lubiya (black-eyed beans) and many more. Additional entrees include crab, lobster, prawns, New York steak, shish kebob made with filet mignon, rabbit, chicken, game hens, and quail, as well as many salads. Beverages include Egyptian fruit drinks plus Egyptian and domestic beer and wine. A secluded private room is now available for parties of up to twenty people.

Sausan will employ several Belly Dance artists to perform nightly, Thursday through Monday. She welcomes outside performers passing through San Francisco and offers them a chance to showcase their talent. Sausan herself says she has stepped down from performing in deference to "providing the opportunity to would-be professionals eager to break into the dance field". She claims this is her choice and not another "Middle Eastern Man Dictate".) Sausan also has plans for an Egyptian cookbook and several works on Middle Eastern Dance, as well as a new line of Egyptian dressings and sauces for distribution to local markets.

Many kudos and zaghareets to this friendly, bright-smiled, freckled, ever-the-girl-next-door-looking woman who followed her dream of dance and continues to provide a place for the rest of us to do the same!
Brava and thank you Sausan!

For reservations and information: Phone: 415-876-2300 Fax: 415-668-5229

To get on Sausan's mailing list send all your info to:
2215 Market Street Suite 214
San Francisco, CA 94114


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