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Salute Restaurant: Dry, But Still Going Strong

Even without a liquor license, Salute Ristorante Italiano remains a community favorite.

When Meriem Kass opened on Main Street along with her brother and husband, she knew one factor about their restaurant would probably hurt business: the lack of a liquor license.

The one-year-old, family-owned restaurant sits between two churches. According to Prince George’s County law, it can't sell alcohol because it is within 500 feet of the churches’ doors.

But this hasn’t stopped Kass and her business partners from keeping the restaurant going. Instead, regulars walk down the block to and bring their own wine.

“We saw this as a good idea, a good place,” Kass said.

After graduating from a hotel school in her home town of Fez, Morocco, Kass and her husband, Abdella, moved to the U.S., to experience living outside Morocco. They bean working in Seattle for her brother, Mustapha Atouani, who owned a small restaurant similar to Salute.

Atouani trained Abdella to cook in his restaurant and then attended a Seattle culinary school. After two years on the west coast--and at Atouani's suggestion-- the whole family moved to Maryland. Kass said they searched the area for a while before finding their current restaurant location (fomerly the Something Special Coffee Shop).

Kass and her husband Abdella now live in Silver Spring. She said the family chose Italian food because Atouani had worked in several Italian restaurants and “decided to have his own.” The popularity of Italian food in the U.S. also appealed to them.

“Everybody likes it; we like it,” she said.

Owning an Italian restaurant with wine bottles decorating the walls, Kass has seen would-be customers leave because they couldn’t buy wine.

“We’re fine with it,” she said.

Kass said as owners they have decided, for moral and personal reasons, not to sell alcohol, even if the law is repealed--which state lawmakers tried and failed to do during the last General Assembly session.

The nearby Cork & Bottle liquor store has gained some business from Kass’ customers, who aren’t turned off by the unavailability of wine in the restaurant.

“It’s good that we have nice, good restaurants,” said Cork & Bottle employee Mia Kim. Kim added that the restaurant seems to be doing a good job overall.

Kass said the entire neighborhood has been supportive of Salute, with groups coming from churches, schools and local theaters providing business.

“We (Salute and the Laurel Mill Playhouse) work together a lot,” she said. “They really like to work with us.”

The Merchandiser Magazine, which reviews Washington, D.C. area businesses, recently gave the restaurant a coveted 5-star rating.

Kass has framed the March issue, which now proudly hangs on a dining room wall.

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