Shoppers crowded the aisles of the Holy Land Bakery, Grocery and Deli in northeast Minneapolis on Wednesday, stocking up in the hours before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In almost every shopping cart were dates, the traditional food that Muslims traditionally eat first to break their daily fast.
Holy Land had already sold 10,000 packages of dates by Wednesday afternoon. The planning for the Ramadan rush began months ago, when the store's owners, members of the Wadi family, started importing dates from the many countries where their customers hail from. That's one of the ways the store caters to the needs of the Twin Cities' growing Muslim population for Ramadan — marked by dawn-to-dusk fasting, prayer and acts of service.
"We try to bring foods they like from home," said Wajdi Wadi, who now lives in Jordan but flies back to Minnesota for Ramadan to celebrate with his family and customers. "Our job is to make it easy."
As the Muslim community has grown and diversified in the Twin Cities, so too has the selection at Holy Land. In recent years, the influx of Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian immigrants has influenced owners to stock the store with more goods from those countries.
"The diversity of the Muslim community makes each community require certain kinds of foods," said Majdi Wadi, the CEO of Holy Land. "Each country has different customs and certain traditions we try to accommodate."
Mohamed Elkaffas spent Wednesday afternoon at Holy Land with his wife, Mervat, filling their cart with dates, desserts and vegetables in preparation for the holiday. Both are Egyptian immigrants and have been Holy Land customers for nearly 30 years. They have always been able to find traditional foods imported from Egypt.
"I find what I want," said Mohamed Elkaffas.
Holy Land started getting ready for Ramadan in November, so staff would have time to import the products their customers demand. Any other month 20,000 to 25,000 people shop and dine there. During Ramadan, that number goes up to 70,000 or more.
The 125 employees at Holy Land, along with the additional 50 hired just for the month of Ramadan, are barely able to stock the shelves fast enough. Large displays of desserts and dates have to be restocked several times a day. Their catering service will serve 2,000 people this Saturday.
Samer Wadi, brother to Wajdi and Majdi, flew from his home in Florida to make katayef, or qatayef, for customers during the month of Ramadan. The pancake-like Arab dessert is a Ramadan essential, and Holy Land makes 30,000 to 50,000 a day.
"It's like eggnog during Christmas," he said.
Ellie Roth is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for Star Tribune.