Salute Ristorante Italiano

Abdellah and Meriem Kass opened Salute Ristorante Italiano on Main Street in March 2011. (Staff photo by Jon Sham / January 8, 2014)

Nearly three years after opening in a former Main Street coffee shop, Salute Ristorante Italiano's owners have decided to close their doors.

Moroccan-born Abdellah and Meriem Kass ran their cozy, Main Street restaurant with a personal touch, with Meriem Kass greeting patrons with smiles and hugs. Customers' food requests, whether they were on the menu or not, were prepared by Meriem's husband, Abdellah, and her brother, Mustapha Atouni, who were once private chefs for Christina Onassis.

Meriem Kass said they decided to close Salute because of a partnership issue that could not be resolved.

Laurel resident Mike Walls, who dined at Salute about once a week with his wife, Ruth, said they are going to miss the warmth and individualized service the family offered at Salute.

"They were always doing special dishes for people," he said. "We really got to know Meriem and Kass and we watched their kids grow up. It was a great place to go."

So it was no surprise that when the Walls heard that the restaurant would be closing two days after Christmas, they decided to throw a goodbye party for the Kasses on New Year's Day. It's not often that restaurant owners get a party when they close, but, Ruth Walls said: "The family was so sweet. They'd done so much for the community and gave customers such personal care that I felt we had to do something to say goodbye to them."

The afternoon dessert and tea party that the Walls organized was informal. Mike Walls simply sent out an invitation on his blog, and the couple expected a handful of people to show up. As testament to Salute's loyal customer base, there was hardly a parking space to be found near the Walls' home on Prince George Street and the entire lower level of their house was filled with guests.

"I was so surprised to see the number of people who came out — and on New Year's Day," Meriem said during the party. "It was so good to be able to tell them all 'bye' and thank them for their support. This is so special."

That was the sentiment of the guests at the party, who tried to keep things festive, while acknowledging their sadness over the restaurant's closing,

"I'm so disappointed it came to this because not only was Salute a great addition to the Historic District, but they were such wonderful people," said Karen Lubieniecki, former president of the Laurel Historical Society. "It was like visiting with family when you went to dinner there. I was there the first day they opened and ate there every week. They will really be missed."

Venus Theatre owner Deb Randall agreed, and said: "They were great friends to have on Main Street. I'm definitely going to miss their eggplant dish."

So will Laurel Museum Director Lindsey Baker, who ate there a lot and used Salute's catering services for events.

"I remember when they catered pizzas for us; because they knew I loved their eggplant Parmesan, they sent an eggplant sandwich for me and did that every time I used them," Baker said. "I was upset when I heard they were closing.'

Meriem Kass said the restaurant will be operated in the future by the Oliver Brothers restaurant chain.

"They are a family business with a restaurant in Silver Spring," she said.

The Kasses also live in Silver Spring and, according to Meriem, they intend to take on catering orders from local residents in the near future.

"I'm being asked to already cater for Laurel people," Meriem said. "I love everybody and will keep in touch. But for now, we will take a rest."