KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A month dedicated to those of Middle Eastern descent is celebrated every day to many in East Tennessee.

April is National Arab American Heritage Month and celebrations are still going on. The 9th annual Arab Fest was held on Saturday, April 15 in Downtown Knoxville, and thousands came out to show their love and support to those of Arab descent. However, the Arab American footprint goes beyond just one day or month.

Industries ranging from medicine, food, beauty, and more have seen a large Arab influence throughout the years, and it all started back in the late 20s.

WJ Harb, an immigrant from Palestine, is known to be the first man of Arabic heritage to land in Knoxville, with family still residing here today. When first arriving in the United States, Harb stopped in Pittsburg and started his business, but it wasn’t long until he was persuaded to move down south and call Knoxville home.

His son, Jimmy Harb, recounts why he came to Knoxville and says his father found the people “warm” and loved that the Smoky Mountains were of similar elevation to his hometown of Ramallah, Palestine.

He then brought his business to Knoxville and was the first man of Arabic descent to become a business owner in the area. Harb’s Carpeting and Oriental Rugs, located on North Broadway, has paved the way for other Arab-owned businesses in Knoxville.

WJ Harb in front of Harb’s Carpet in 1926.

The Knoxville skyline and prominent buildings were created by some companies that are led by an Arab-American.

Denark Construction, founded by Raja Jubran in 1985, has been the premier builder on projects such as the Knoxville and Sevierville Convention Centers, Tennessee Smokies Stadium, and the renovation of the Historic Tennessee Theatre.

All buildings come with a dream and a design and Design Innovation Architects (DIA) can help with that. Founder, Faris Eid, attended the University of Tennessee with the hope to bring innovation and creativity to Knoxville through the world of building design. Eid and his team are on of the architect firms to be designing the new and highly anticipated Smokies Stadium coming to Knoxville.

An Iraqi immigrant, Susan Dakak, President of Smart Views, provides pipeline inspections and underwater data assessments about the water moving throughout the region.

She arrived in the United States in the late 70s with a goal–to live the American life. She hoped to bring her heritage to the country and add more diversity and inclusion to her new home. Since her time in Knoxville, she says she truly has lived the American dream. Dakak was a class member of Leadership Knoxville in 2016, a Knoxville Chamber Board Member, and University of Tennessee School of Music Board of Advisor.

All of these engineers and architects have one thing in common, to keep Knoxville beautiful, but you don’t have to be in these industries to do the very same work.

If you are wanting to look and feel your very best, Belleza Salon and Spa has been catering to your self-care needs for over 25 years. Marwan and Regina Zaouk are bringing the love of beauty, creativity, and a good time to you. They offer two locations in the Knoxville area for both men and women. Marwan, originally from Lebanon, credits his wife with the creation and success of the salon. From cut, color, nail services, facials, massages, and more, you can walk out feeling better than ever.

Creativity travels even further with 2 artists in East Tennessee.

Rulla Habiby, originally from Nazareth, Palestine, has been an artist all her life. Her artwork ranges from self-portraits, to nature, to abstract paintings. She displays her work all throughout her home and says she paints whatever speaks to her. Habiby moved to Knoxville in the early 2000s with her whole family. She says her art is a great depiction of who she really is. Her artwork has been featured not only in the country but on an international level.

Reem Arnouk, came to Knoxville from Syria when she was still a teenager. She started out pursuing British literature, but it wasn’t long before art was calling her name. After a few art shows, she knew this was the road she wanted to take. Arnouk’s artwork can be found online and around town in various shops. Reem is a part of the Maker City where she connects and collaborates with other like-minded creators in the area.

From the canvas to the screen, art is made in all forms. Production and broadcast can be taken care of at HP Video with co-founder, Danny Harb. Harb has been in the production business since he was in college. The business has seen big names come by for their close up including Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, and more. Harb has also been involved in several big productions such as commercials and a few Super Bowl games throughout the years. Harb has also served as President of the American Federation of Ramallah, Palestine (AFRP) and has ensured those living in Palestine were taken care of during Covid-19.

There is another creative family in the Knoxville area, and that would be the Saahs. Their family businesses range from The Julianna, Saah Salon Suites, C & S Refinishing & Upholstery, Charlie’s Candy Carts & Balloon Gardens, Sandy Floral Design, Artwork by Haley Saah, and more.

From left to right; Haley Saah, Christopher Saah, Julianna Saah, Charlie Saah, Susie Saah, Andrew Saah, Jessica Saah, Sandy Saah, Alexander Saah.

The Arab American community is using their passions and purpose to also help you in a time of need.

Assistant District Attorney General Samyah Jubran has been prosecuting cases on behalf of Knoxville for more than 20 years. She graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1995 and went on to work for the Knox County courts since then. Her primary focus is to defend victims of crimes and says the word “justice” is always her top priority. Her work focuses on continuing to improve and uphold of the criminal justice system in Knoxville. Jubran has run for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) 2020 Woman of the Year and raised over 50,000 dollars.

Samyah Jubran meeting Bill Clinton saying it was an honor to represent the America Federation of Ramallah, Palestine during an Arab American outreach meeting at The White House.

From navigating the legal system to the home market, several Arab Americans have got you covered.

Wala Habiby, an immigrant from Palestine, entered the world of real estate and has amassed several awards and recognition for his success. In 2022, he became the number one relator in his company, Coldwell Banker Wallace & Wallace, and was named one of the top 10 in the state of Tennessee.

Helen Harb is also navigating the home market with her son in law, Tai DeSa. Harb DeSa Realty have combined their years of experience and passion to find you the right home at any budget. Helen and her husband, Al, also dabble in providing you a great meal too.

Harby’s Pizza is still bringing good food and a nostalgic aesthetic to North Knoxville, since being founded by the Harb’s in 1990. From old records on the wall, an Elvis Presley statue, and a classic New York-style pizza, you will keep coming back.

The Arab American footprint goes beyond our home, beauty, and legal needs. Many Arab American physicians and healthcare providers in East Tennessee are sought out from all over the world. With a variety of specialties, the world of medicine has not gone unnoticed.

Starting with our youngest patients, Dr. Youhanna Al-Tawil is putting your children first at his practice, GI For Kids. His passion to specialize in pediatric care started when he was only 12 years old after becoming severely ill himself. His family also has and hopes to follow in his footsteps. His wife Salwa, is a former primary care pediatrician at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. His daughter, Laura, is now in dental school studying at NYU. GI For Kids offers help in Knoxville, Crossville, Cleveland, Morristown, and Corbin, Kentucky.

Dr. Hanna posing with a patient

Many of East Tennessee’s most vulnerable patients come to the Hanna Cancer Associates at UT Medical. Founded by Dr. Wahid Hanna, anyone affected by cancer can find comfort, ease, and top resources through their journey with him. He started and completed most of his medical education in his hometown of Cairo, Egypt. He started his residency and fellowship in England before moving to Knoxville in 1978. He has over 30 years of experience and service to helping those dealing with all forms of cancer. Hanna is currently the Chief of the Hematology and Oncology Department at UT Medical Center.

If you are entering the world of surgery, scrub in with General Colon and Rectal surgeon, Mahdi Budayr. His talent, dedication, and attempt to make you laugh is why his patients revere him less like their doctor and more like their family. He brings over 40 years of experience to Blount Memorial Hospital. Much like Dr. Hanna, Dr. Budayr also studied at Ain Shams University in Egypt in 1982.

Smile big, because one Arab American is helping you keep those pearly whites bright.

Dr. Nadim Jubran, D.D.S. also practices in Maryville and has been in practice for over 30 years. He is a member of The American Dental Association and The Tennessee Dental Association, while also serving as former President of the State of Tennessee Board of Dentistry. His team loves his infectious smiles and his ability to treat patients of all ages. If you ask any of his family members, you might get a shower while getting a routine cleaning.

If there is anything the Arabs do best, that is cooking.

Believe it or not but falafel has been an East Tennessee favorite since 1982. The Falafel Hut, owned and operated by Sameer and Renee Jubran, served up authentic Middle-Eastern food to the Knoxville community since closing in 2003. Renee now spends her time with family and cooking her famous dishes for all to enjoy. Now you can too with her newest cookbook. “Renée’s Recipes” is the chef’s first cookbook featuring treasured dishes from her famous restaurant, to even the meals shared within her own family. This is just one of many ways Jubran is keeping her Palestinian heritage alive. A portion of the funds have and continue to be donated to several Palestinian charities.

Fast-forward to today and falafel is still an East Tennessee staple.

Yassin Terou, a Syrian immigrant, has become a household name in Knoxville. In 2014 he opened his business, Yassin’s Falafel House, which became more than a restaurant but a safe place for kindness, acceptance, and love. He says his home of Knoxville has become his family. Many all over the country have also fallen in love with Terou and his mission. In 2018, he was named “The Nicest Place in America” on Good Morning America. Since then he has won multiple awards and gained recognition, and it’s not just for his falafel. He recently traveled overseas to help feed and provide aid to those affected by the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. In 2020, Yassin became an official U.S. citizen.

Be transformed back to the Holy Land while visiting The Holy Land Market. Located off Sutherland Ave, you can buy or prepare your next authentic Middle-Eastern meal with the help of owner, Walter Ajlouny. You can find him most days cooking in the kitchen alongside his team. After spending time in Michigan and New York, Ajlouny started The Holy Land fifteen years ago. If you are looking to make your own hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, grape leaves, and so much more, you can shop all the ingredients and walk through his market as if you are walking through a grocery store in the Middle East.

Other Arab Americans are also putting their money where their mouth is. When it comes to you financial well-being, Hassan Fawaz is bringing his level of money management for investments, insurance, and retirement. Originally from Lebanon, Fawaz founded Financial Partners of TN, which provides top financial planning for you and your loved ones. Fawaz has been featured several time on WATE’s Good Morning Tennessee and Living East Tennessee.

However, many Arab-owned businesses in East Tennessee are not what you would have originally thought.

If you are craving something sweet, visit Nothing Bundt Cakes, owned by Richard Issac, who is of Lebanese heritage. And if one sweet isn’t enough, drown yourself in cinnamon rolls with owner and Syrian American, Holly Roe. “My grandmother was always a great baker, and she truly inspired me to take on the Cinnaholic bakery,” she says.

If you’re looking for an all-American diner, then head to Pete’s Café off Union Ave. Owner, Peter Natour and his family are ready to welcome you. They say to pull up a chair and expect to be greeted by the Natour family every time you come in. You can find Peter behind the counter whipping up your next meal, while his wife, Rita, is there to bring guest satisfaction to the highest level.

Another staple all-American spot is Nick & J’s, owned by Najwan Natour and his family. From delicious flavors to good laughs with the team, you can see why the door keeps revolving for this family-owned business. Many notable names have stopped in to share a bite including UT Football Head Coach Josh Heupel, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, UT Football players, NFL players, and more.

We have encompassed so much of the Arab American influence in Knoxville, but what if I told you they all do not come in human form.

UT’s smallest fan, Sinan the Squirrel, has gained popularity through his hilarious videos and tiny wardrobe fit for any occasion. His owner/father, Saed Awad, is of Palestinian descent, so we guess that Sinan is too. After all, he was named after an Arabic children’s cartoon title, “سنان.” You can follow along with Sinan and Saed through their Instagram and Tiktok which have collectively amassed over 160 thousand followers.

As you can see, the Arab Americans are not stopping now. The advancements and influence in industries such as construction, medicine, beauty, and so many more have allowed the community to support and encourage the Arab pioneers in our region.

“The Arabic community has come such a long way and we are thankful to share what we love with East Tennessee, says the owner of Heelex Podiatry, Robbie Hakeem.

Thank you, Knoxville for allowing me to share my heritage with you – Tala