Saca’s keeps it fresh and healthy 6 days a week

For Fred and Nadia Saca, the Mediterranean diet is not a trend. It’s a way of life, and the source of a thriving family business.

Since 1992, Saca’s Mediterranean Cuisine has provided Claremonters with fresh and healthy meals, using Ms. Saca’s traditional family recipes.

The menu hasn’t changed much since Saca’s first opened its doors: crisp falafel, creamy hummus and baba ghanouj, tangy tabouleh, savory shawerma and sticky-sweet baklava.

It’s the kind of food that Mr. Saca, who moved to Houston, Texas from Lebanon in 1955 at age 10, grew up eating, and which his wife has prepared for their family since the couple was married in 1975. 

They didn’t always plan to take Ms. Saca’s skill in the kitchen public. After moving to California in the 1970s, Mr. Saca worked for 30 years in the savings and loan industry, first at Security Pacific and then at Union Federal. Meanwhile, Ms. Saca tended to their growing family of 3 boys, who went through Chaparral Elementary, El Roble Intermediate and Claremont High School.

When the savings and loan industry began to dry up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Sacas found themselves at a crossroads. They decided to open up a restaurant, and the rest is a piece of Claremont history.

At first the restaurant was located at Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway in the Peppertree Square shopping center. Their business grew, little by little, until 1998, when they moved to their current Second Street location. Once headquartered in the Claremont Village, their business tripled almost immediately, according to Mr. Saca. 

The restaurant business is a 6-day a week affair for these local entrepreneurs. In fact, it is only in recent years that Saca’s has been closed on Sundays. That’s a lot of time for a couple to spend together. What keeps their relationship, and their business, going smoothly is a clear delineation of duties.

Mr. Saca does the purchasing, the accounting and the bookkeeping. Ms. Saca supervises all of the cooking, assisted by a staff of 8. Her busy kitchen features lamb, chicken and beef sizzling on spits, each marinated with its own blend of water and spices, while whole chickens brown on a rotisserie. Saca’s offers take-out catering and so there are often large party platters to prepare, each carefully arranged and garnished.

Sandwiches are arguably the most popular item on the Saca’s menu. Pita bread is stuffed with falafel—a perfectly toasted patty made of ground chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans—or strips of shaved shawerma meat, layered on top of a bed of lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Tahini, a gourmet sesame sauce, adds additional flavor while a spear of homemade pickled turnip, tinted a fetching red with beet juice, adds a finishing touch.

It’s a selection that suits health-conscious Claremont. The Sacas dress their salads with olive oil and cook with trans-fat-free and cholesterol-free canola oil.

A number of items are even vegan, including the falafel, dolma (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs), tabouleh (a flavorful salad of chopped parsley, tomatoes, onions and cracked wheat), and the hummus and baba ghanouj spreads, which are made of pureed chickpeas and eggplant, respectively.

“Mediterranean food is extremely healthy, especially our way of cooking here. We do everything from scratch, and we don’t use any preservatives,” Mr. Saca noted.

A number of people eat at Sacas every day they are open, some of them even twice, knowing the habit won’t super-size them, Mr. Saca said. While most diners are less zealous, the success of the family business is due to their large number of regular customers. John Sweeney, who lives in Yucaipa but teaches at the Claremont School of Theology, is among these. He comes in about once a week, lured by the falafel, lamb and feta-laden Greek salad, saying, “It’s good food at a good price.”

The Sacas are committed to keeping their low prices, which haven’t changed in 4 years, despite the fact that their own food costs seem to continually escalate. They stay afloat thanks to low overhead and a loyal clientele. It helps, too, that Claremont is becoming known as a culinary destination. Mr. Saca doesn’t view the increasing number of eateries in town as competition but instead as a boon. “More restaurants are coming in, and it’s bringing more people.”

Like the proprietors of most family-owned businesses, the Sacas spend an inordinate amount of time at their restaurant. They don’t get much time for outside pursuits. They do, however, eat out about once a week, at a variety of restaurants. Sundays are a special time, when Mr. and Ms. Saca head to church at Our Lady of the Assumption. If they’re lucky, they also get to see their 2 small grandchildren, who are reportedly big fans of their grandmother’s hummus.

Despite the long hours, the Sacas enjoy their work, which allows them to meet new friends and to make people happy in a primal way…by feeding them.

“My philosophy is to lead a good life,” Mr. Saca said. “Be honest and straight with people, and talk to people. Take advice from the old and the young, and then make your own decision.”

Having made the decision to open a family business, the Sacas plan to keep serving up Mediterranean goodness “as long as God gives us good health,” Mr. Saca said.

—Sarah Torribio



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