After more than three months of closure for repairs, Zeezenia International Market is set to reopen its doors to the public Friday.
The store, one of the only Middle Eastern and Mediterranean markets in Gainesville, was forced to temporarily close down in June after a spontaneous combustion caused a fire inside the stockroom. Since then, the owners — Fawzy Ebrahim, 50, and his wife Zaineb Ebrahim, 42 — have worked nonstop to restore the damage and start their business again.
Although the building structure wasn’t badly affected, the inside of the store suffered heavy damage, Fawzy said. The fire and smoke damaged all the products, so nothing was salvaged.
The Ebrahim family had to remodel the entire store and buy brand new appliances, shelves and inventory. The total cost, not including inventory, was over $180,000, Fawzy said.
“We've been struggling with the insurance company until now,” he said. “We didn't get any money from them so far.”
The Ebrahim family was forced to deplete their retirement savings to pay for the damage, which has led to a legal battle with their insurance company. The community also pitched in over $35,000 from a LaunchGood campaign.
“I really appreciate the Gainesville community from the bottom of my heart,” Fawzy said. “The support we got is beyond my imagination. Not only financially but also the messages and comments we got on Facebook.”
It was the community’s support that prompted them to reopen so soon after the fire, he said, rather than being forced to wait until they received money from their insurance.
Customers were eager for the store to reopen because the groceries found at Zeezenia are necessary components of Middle Eastern cooking.
Much of Gainesville’s Muslim and Middle Eastern community rely on Zeezenia for meat, spices and other groceries to cook their native dishes, said Aqueela Khuddus, a board member of Welcoming Gainesville & Alachua County.
Khuddus, 70, was a frequent shopper at Zeezenia, and she named the meat as one of the store’s best products.
The meat sold in the store is from the Ebrahim family’s own two farms. One is located in Newberry, while the other is between Live Oak and Lake City. The livestock are all grass-fed and contain no added hormones or antibiotics. The meat is also halal, meaning it has been blessed under Islam and killed ethically. It is the only type of meat Muslims can consume.
The closure of the store affected the Muslim community greatly because it was hard to find organic halal meat outside of Zeezenia, Khuddus said.
“Some people went as far as Orlando to get their meat,” she said.
Khuddus looks forward to the reopening of Zeezenia International Market Friday — not only to be able to buy groceries again but also to regain an integral hub for the Gainesville Muslim community, she said.
“They are just very beautiful and loving and caring people, and their business and ethics are excellent,” Khuddus said. “They're very, very good at serving the community and the community’s needs.”
Contact Erina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ErinaAnwar_ .
Erina is a second-year journalism student and reports on East Gainesville for The Alligator. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Erina grew up in Fort Lauderdale and is excited to discover new stories in Gainesville. When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring local restaurants and watching Korean dramas.