One day, in the middle of the global pandemic, Sam Boukhima came home to his wife, Juliana, and said, “Honey, I just bought a restaurant. What are we doing tomorrow?”
As a concession for the impulsive purchase, he named the business after his better half.
The Wexford couple now runs two eateries on Potomac Avenue in Dormont: Juju’s Italian Deli and Fire Bar & Grill, which opened May 1 and June 20, respectively.
“I’m a very spontaneous person,” Sam Boukhima says. “When I feel something is right, I usually do it. I use my emotions to make decisions.”
A native of Morocco, Boukhima grew up on a farm where food made from fresh ingredients was the norm. His family produced wine, cheese and olive oil in the kitchen, the center of their universe.
Boukhima wanted to bring that same experience to Dormont. As general manager of #1 Cochran Nissan of South Hills, he spends a lot of time in the borough.
Juju’s sells about 100 hoagies a day. The sandwiches are served on Mancini’s rolls piled high with freshly sliced Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Other specialties include meatball subs and açaí bowls. The berries are a nutritional superfood grown in Juliana’s homeland of Brazil.
A few doors down at Fire, the world travelers are making American eats with multicultural flair.
Breakfast starts at 6 a.m. Omelet lovers can choose from asparagus and goat cheese, mortadella and provolone or a Spanish-style offering. Brunch, served Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., features chicken and waffles. The bird is blackened on the grill and the scratch-made cakes are drizzled with Sriracha maple syrup. Add a mimosa or perfectly mixed Bloody Mary to brighten your morning.
The lunch and dinner menu features appetizers such as Zaalouk Bites, a Moroccan favorite made with
Mediterranean-spiced eggplants, tomatoes and peppers on either bib lettuce or sliced crostini bread. They also serve salads, eight-ounce Angus beef burgers, New York strip steak, tacos, chicken and zucchini boats.
Thursday is International Night.
You can get takeout or delivery from both restaurants, and there’s socially distanced, indoor and outdoor seating at Fire. Sandwiched between the two restaurants is an Italian market the Boukhimas plan to open within the next month.
In the back of the building is a spacious parking lot where live musical acts perform each weekend. When football season kicks off, the couple plans to project the game onto a large wall on the property. Rooftop seating is in the works.
They hope to expand their Fire/Juju’s empire to the South Side of Pittsburgh at some point.
“People laugh at me; they think I’m crazy and wonder how I sleep at night,” says the father of three. “I see more opportunity in times of crisis than on normal days. COVID is a storm that’s going to pass, but I’ve learned how to dance in the rain.”