Maha and Elias Muhawi are a quiet, older Palestinian couple who sell their hummus and meat pies at the Vineyard Farmers Market. But get them on their own turf, and they're a hoot.
We giggled and joked our way through an interview recently about their new lunchtime restaurant, Mediterranean To Go; about their 18 years of marriage; and about a lifetime of making and selling good food.
Maha, 60, and Elias, 70, have been selling their Mediterranean food at the farmers market at Blackstone and Shaw avenues on Saturday mornings for about 2 1/2 years. They make the food at a small, rented restaurant kitchen on West Avenue.
After people -- lured by the smell of good food -- poked their heads in and asked if they were open for lunch, Elias said, "'What the hell, we'll open."
They opened in January, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. It's a casual little place that will soon offer a take-home menu of prepared dishes that can be cooked at home.
Other than the wipe board in the window, they don't have a sign yet. They tell everybody to look for the Round Table Pizza -- their version of GPS, Maha says. Mediterranean To Go is right next door, in the stand-alone building at the northeast corner of Shaw and West avenues.
The menu is simple, with nothing over $6.95. They sell a lot of wraps, such as the garlic chicken wrap and the spicy kefta wrap with grilled ground beef. There are kebob plates and salads.
The Muhawis make light and healthy food, grinding their own meat and cooking pilaf with just a little butter and water.
"If you keep it pure and simple, you can't go wrong," Maha says.
It's her philosophy on business, too. Select good-tasting, easy-to-make dishes that people like. Of course, things aren't always that simple, especially when Elias gets involved.
They started at the farmers market selling five items. Now they sell 25.
"Most of them, believe it or not, are by force," Elias said.
You mean customers demanded them, I ask? Nope.
"He'd sneak them in on me," Maha says in mock horror.
All of a sudden, she would discover they were selling a new product at the farmers market because Elias wanted to try it out. Back at the kitchen, she would open the refrigerator and find ingredients she didn't buy. Elias was up to something.
Despite all the gentle ribbing, it's obvious these two love each other and have fun together. They just celebrated their 18th anniversary last week.
Food almost always has been a part of their lives. Elias and his first wife started Sinbad Sweets, a baklava company. The marriage broke up, but Elias kept working in the food industry, opening Cabbages and Kings, a restaurant in Fig Garden Village that he sold before it closed.
He started spending holidays in San Francisco with a childhood friend, who happened to be Maha's uncle. Maha was there, too. They were both smokers at the time, and would end up outside with another relative for a smoke and conversation.
Pretty soon, the other relative made herself scarce and "then everybody knows we're not outside for the cigarettes," Elias said. Cigarette breaks turned into long-distance flirting, followed by long-distance dating and, when Maha was 40, they got married.
They ran a baklava company together. Eventually, they transitioned into selling at the farmers market.
They're still tinkering, bringing new dishes to the restaurant menu and to the farmers market. Elias says rice pudding will soon be for sale at the farmers market and maybe even bakla-- ... "Don't say that word," Maha interrupts.
Baklava is what he's about to say, but Maha has bad memories of "being doused in syrup from my head to my toes" when they made baklava together.
Still, she says it with a smile.
Liking each other is a requirement for running a business together, and Elias swears it even has an effect on the food.
"If you cook when you're in a good mood, your food tastes better than when you cook when you're in a lousy mood," he says.
It shows. Happy anniversary, Maha and Elias.
Details: Mediterranean To Go, 5042 N. West Ave., (559) 447-1392.