Obituary: Ghazi Sami Saba; founded Sami’s falafel restaurants

February 11, 2013
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Ghazi Sami “Big Sam” Saba of Dedham, formerly of Roslindale, a visionary who brought healthy Lebanese food and wraps to Boston, passed away on Feb. 6, 2013 after a long battle with cancer. He was 58 years old. Sami was the founder of Sami’s Falafel Truck of the Longwood Medical Area.

Sami was the loving son of Najla (Youssef) of Roslindale and the late Sami Saba. Dear and devoted husband of Hyam (Moussa). Beloved father of Sami Saba and his wife Amelia of Randolph, and Jihad Saba of Dedham. Loving brother of Dima Khoury and her husband Farid of Roslindale; Ghassan Saba of Roslindale; and Shehab Saba and his wife Nellie of Pennsylvania. Sami is also survived by six loving nieces and nephews.

Ghazi Saba started Big Sam’s Falafel in 1979 in a converted 1968 Sunbeam Bread truck in the Longwood Medical Area. He just sold shish kebab and falafel sandwiches. Hummus and tabbouleh came shortly after. It was just Ghazi, a partner, and his wife, Hyam, who goes by Amy. In November of 1981, his two brothers, Shehab and Gus, joined the team. They bought out the partner and changed the name to Sami’s. When this change was made, they were given a spot on Binney Street by Children’s Hospital. Ghazi decided that they needed to be open 24 hours because, “The hospital is always there for us when we are sick, so we needed be there for them when they are hungry.”

The word got out that there was this place selling some crazy food late at night, and it was good! A journalist working for the Simmons College school paper interviewed Ghazi and asked him, “Why are you doing this?” His response was that the American diet was not good. He observed in the early ’80s that obesity was a problem. The Lebanese diet was a much healthier way to go as most Lebanese food is high in vitamins, essential nutrients and flavor, and low in fats and carbohydrates.

After a few years, he was offered a spot on Longwood Avenue in a small park across the street from Children’s Hospital. (The location is now home to the Children’s hospital garage, a Boloco and Starbucks).

Ghazi also served all sorts of people. After a lot of their home games, several of the Celtics players (including the original Big Three, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish) would come and have some falafel. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would stop by every time his team played the Celtics. Most of the Bruins came by as well. (Ghazi had befriended many of them when was a dishwasher at Daisy Buchanan’s in the ’70s.)

According to his brother, Shehab, Sami’s was mentioned on David Letterman a few times because it was the only place in the country you could get this type of food served 24 hours a day; the other 24 hour joints were serving hot dogs, burgers, pizza or steak subs. It didn’t matter to Ghazi if you were famous or just a regular guy. He had a huge heart and a philosophy that you would be served, money or no money.

In 2010, he and his family founded the former Sami’s Wrap and Roll at 654 Centre St. in Jamaica Plain.

Today, Ghazi’s son, Sami, proudly carries on his dad’s traditions at the Café Beirut in Jamaica Plain.

Sami’s funeral service will be held Tues., Feb. 12 at 11 a.m. at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, 55 Emmonsdale Road, West Roxbury. Visiting hours in the church will be Tuesday, 9-11 a.m. Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to attend.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Sami’s memory may be made to the church or to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, PO Box 849168, Boston, MA 02284.

Sami will be laid to rest at Brookdale Cemetery in Dedham.

Ghazi Sami Saba. (Photo Courtesy Kfoury Keefe Funeral Home)