Lebanese Immigrants Have Found A Special Home in Utica Lebanese Immigrants Have Found a Special Home in Utica

The Utica New York community have long embraced the Lebanese

UTICA, N.Y. ( NCC News) — The Lebanese culture in Utica, New York extends beyond just an ethnic group that’s settled in town.

Go to any part of town and you’re bound to stumble upon one of the many Lebanese restaurants or Saint Louis Gonzaga, the Lebanese Maronite Catholic Church on Rutger Street in Utica.

“We love it here. It’s like home. No matter where we go, this is our home,” Louie Zeina, the owner of The Grapevine Restaurant & Catering in New Hartford, said.


The lobby of The Grapevine.
The Grapevine Restaurant & Catering is located right outside the city of Utica in the suburb of New Hartford.
© 2021 Mat Mlodzinski

Zeina moved to Utica in 1974, a year prior to the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted for 15 years and caused over 100,000 deaths. He moved to Utica to be with his uncle, who came to Utica from Lebanon in the 1960s.

Even though Zeina came for a better life and to escape the conflict, it was initially challenging for him to adjust to a new country and lifestyle.

“I remember every night we used to dream about being back home in Lebanon. After a while, you start adjusting. Even in your dreams, you know you’re dreaming,” Zeina said.

Despite those pains of adjusting, Zeina, like so many other Lebanese immigrants who have settled in Utica, brought his culture with him. He opened a food truck shortly after moving and through significant success was able to turn that into his restaurant in 2010.

The Grapevine isn’t the only taste of Lebanon in The Handshake City. Karam’s Bakery, Phoenician Restaurant and Zeina’s Cafe are also owned by Lebanese immigrants and offer traditional Lebanese cuisine.

Some of the most popular choices are tabbouleh, chicken and kofta kebabs and falafel. Segean Karam, the owner of Karam’s bakery, explained why these dishes have now become popular amongst the non-Lebanese.

“People now are into health foods. Our food is very healthy,” Karam said.


Lebanese cuisine on the table is falafel salad (top left), tabbouleh (top right), hummus (bottom right), and an eggplant dish with rice (bottom left)
Karam’s Bakery has a selection of food ranging from treats to full meals.
© 2021 Mat Mlodzinski

Popular food is one thing, but the way the Utica community has accepted the Lebanese is much more. Pascale Lewis, a member of Saint Louis Gonzaga Church, first immigrated to New Jersey with her parents.

“I do remember being a little different because I come from a ‘terrorist country,'” Lewis said.

Her family moved around quite a bit over the next few years, eventually settling in Utica. The Sin City community has been anything but hateful. Instead, it’s been welcoming and accepting, as close as it can be to living in Lebanon, given the two countries are separated by an entire ocean.

“How lucky am I to be in another country other than my country and be here and have the same upbringing growing up – traditions and culture and to be here, it’s a win-win,” Lewis said.

People living in the Central New York area can travel to Utica for the annual Taste of Lebanon Festival, hosted annually by the Saint Louis Gonzaga Church. Last year, it was limited to a drive-through due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s no word on how this year’s festival will take place, but it usually takes place in August.

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