Loumies owner Rania Chidiac Kaldi could not even announce her restaurant’s closure when she was forced to relocate her family to New York City so her husband Raed — who almost died from severe liver failure — could seek medical treatment in September.
“I didn’t even have time to put a note on the door that we closed. It was in the middle of the night, and I was at home,” Ms. Kaldi said. “I did not have time to take my notebooks. All my work and my papers — I couldn’t take anything with me.”
At the same time that Mr. Kaldi was hospitalized, Ms. Kaldi said her mother, who still lives in Lebanon, was battling stage four cancer.
“I had to choose between my business, seeing my mom or helping my husband,” Ms. Kaldi said. “As hard as it was, I made the conclusion that my mom is dying. I cannot do anything about it, but my husband is dying, and I can do something about it. As hard as it is, it was straightforward. He is my husband, the father of my daughter, and my business partner. If I give him the time, he can make it.”
Ms. Kaldi, who is an immigrant from Lebanon, said she and Mr. Kaldi — who is from Palestine — being immigrants means the Kaldi family lacks a support structure that people born in the United States often have. This forced her to make the difficult decision to close Loumies and relocate to New York City with Mr. Kaldi.
“The reality of the matter is that you need a full family to be around you to survive in tough times, and we don’t have that as immigrants. While I was looking for options to see what I can do to keep Loumies up and running, I also had to care for my husband because it was very clear he needed to be in New York City,” Ms. Kaldi said. “He is not capable of going out on his own. He is bedridden. He needs someone to actually take care of him all the time.”
Mr. Kaldi was able to find a matching liver donor in a few short months, despite the fact that searches for organ donations typically take years, and he underwent a successful liver transplant that saved his life after their relocation to New York City in September.
“I saw him die with my own eyes,” Ms. Kaldi said. “He became a skeleton. Now he is coming back, he is putting on some weight. He can move, he can walk. We can walk around the hospital together. He is doing much much better. The medical care he is getting is the best in the world. When I saw that team that worked with him it was like a dream team. They were giving him all their attention.”
But the battle for Loumies is far from over. Its closure, combined with Mr. Kaldi’s medical costs, have drained the Kaldi family’s funds, and Mr. Kaldi has developed medical problems beyond his liver.
“We discovered he is much more sick than we thought,” Ms. Kaldi said. “On top of his liver, he had a growth in his brain that needs to be operated on and that’s going to happen in three weeks time actually.”
Ms. Kaldi set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $40,000, which got a significant swell of support from the community. Within the first 24 hours of its launch on Monday, Oct. 23, the GoFundMe raised over $3,000 from more than 100 different donors.
“The love that I got from the community, from the students, but also from the people around me, from the neighbors to the drivers to the workers and from other business owners… It’s phenomenal,” Ms. Kaldi said. “Ithaca has been nothing but a beautiful place for us and a welcoming place for us. I want to be back as soon as possible.”
With help from the community, Ms. Kaldi hopes she can reopen Loumies — a Levantine home-style restaurant at 114 Dryden Rd. that quickly became popular after its 2022 grand opening — and bring people together once more. Before and after its return, she hopes to find ways to reconnect with the community.
“I do not need to reach $40,000. If I reach $20,000, that is the day I’m going to open,” Ms. Kaldi said. “Until then, I’m planning on going back to Ithaca because my husband is getting better every day. Hopefully I can leave him for a few days and come to Ithaca and do some fun fundraising events.”
Ms. Kaldi said she is hopeful she can reopen by the beginning of 2024. Until then, she hopes Mr. Kaldi’s health becomes stable enough so that she can return to Ithaca to rebuild her business in the coming months.
“Although my plan is to open in January, I don’t want to stay in New York City until January,” Ms. Kaldi said. “I want to come back as soon as possible. I want to come back as early as November to do events. Even if I open for one day, that would mean the world to me.”
Ms. Kaldi said she opened Loumies to create a welcoming environment for all through food. With Ms. Kaldi’s marketing and food skills combined with Mr. Kaldi’s business background, the two proved to be a strong duo that built their restaurant with an emphasis on hospitality. This paid off, as Loumies — which is named after the Arabic word for a dried citrus fruit used in spice mixtures — quickly became a Collegetown favorite, praised for its healthy and delicious menu.
“When I created Loumies, I created a platform to build a thriving community based on inclusivity, sustainability and empowerment,” Ms. Kaldi said. “We actively foster an inclusive and welcoming environment. We embrace individuals from diverse communities, backgrounds and cultures.”
Despite the trials she and her family have gone through in recent months, Ms. Kaldi still stays true to her values, centering food as a pillar of community.
“I always believed in the power of food,” Ms. Kaldi said. “Food brings people together. People got so interested in my food that I started getting asked to do events and to cater for friends and other parents in my daughter’s school.”
Jonathan Brand ’27 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].