Desert Rider Sandwich Shop

217 North Hogan Street

(Courtesy of Yelp)

A cousin of former mayor and current city council member Tommy Hazouri, Larry Hazouri opened his first Desert Rider Sandwich Shop in 1969 on East Forsyth Street. Two years later, he opened a second location on West Bay Street.

“My old sign out in front had a palm tree and a camel, kind of a Middle Eastern type. Pita bread was kind of a novelty then. There wasn’t a lot of pita bread being sold downtown in 1971,” Hazouri stated in a 2003 Jax Daily Record interview.

Later that decade, a third location opened on Hogan Street. Today, the Hogan Street location is the only Desert Rider Sandwich Shop still in operation. A hole in the wall with a vintage counter and bar stools, the downtown sandwich shop is best known for its breakfast bowls, namesake riders, homemade soups, dressings, and special made “Desert Rider sauce.”

Hala’s Mideast Eatery and Market

4323 University Boulevard South

The story of Hala’s Mideast Eatery and Market began with the establishment of Hala Cafe & Bakery by Zohair Mardini in 1975. Hala would be taken to the next level when brothers Fahed and Asad Owais joined the business, expanding operations to include five locations and a wholesale division. Today, Hala Cafe & Bakery lives on in its original University Boulevard location as Hala’s Mideast Eatery and Market, remaining a popular place for its shawarma platters, falafel and other Mediterranean entrees. It sells its own pita bread and other Middle Eastern wares in the adjacent market.

Joseph’s Pizza

7316 Main St North (Original location)

Serving pizza, classic Italian dishes, grinding its own sausages and featuring an in-store bakery that bakes bread daily, Joseph’s Pizza is Jacksonville’s oldest pizzeria. Established in 1956, the restaurant was purchased by Joseph Batah, after his arrival in town from California. Making fresh bread and dough daily, Joseph’s greatest thrill was watching the smiling faces of people enjoying the flavor of his hard work. According to Joseph, “Cooking is something special when it’s in your soul. Otherwise, there’s an ingredient missing.” Remaining in the family and now women owned, Joseph’s Pizza uses the same recipes from the 1950s, at its original Panama Park location and another in Atlantic Beach.

Pinegrove Market and Deli

1511 Pinegrove Avenue

(Courtesy of Pinegrove Market and Deli)

One of Jacksonville’s last old -fashioned independent butchers, Pinegrove Market and Deli is a full-service meat counter and sandwich shop in Avondale. Once a grocery store on State Street operated by Joseph Bajalia, the local institution moved the store to its current, larger location on Pinegrove Avenue in June 1969. The family began to focus only on selling meats and sandwiches, and Pinegrove became an award winning neighborhood icon thanks to its quality meats and dishes like homemade tabouli and hand-ground burgers.

Pita Bakery

5931 Merrill Road

In 1958, Joseph Assi left Beirut, Lebanon for the United States. Settling in Jacksonville, Assi established a sundry store and then a bakery, but became best known for operating the Gold Room restaurant. There he introduced a cold-cut Arabic club sandwich packed in a pita during the early 1960s, which is often credited as the invention of Jacksonville’s famed local dish: the camel rider.

Today, the rider is Jacksonville’s culinary answer to the Philly cheesesteak, Chicago’s deep dish pizza and Baltimore’s crab cakes. A quick, flavorful lunchtime dish for working people, a traditional rider consists of ham, salami, bologna and sandwich fixings stuffed into a pita, and often comes with a side of tabbouleh and a cherry limeade. With over 50 local restaurants serving riders, one may wonder where a significant amount of fresh pita bread is being produced.

The legacy of sandwich pioneer Joseph Assi survives in a nondescript storefront in Arlington. Behind these walls, Assi’s nephew Melad Assi has operated the Pita Bakery since 1978. Delivering to 110 accounts each day, the Pita Bakery has become a hidden staple in the local economy itself.

The Sheik Sandwiches and Subs

2708 North Main Street (Original location)

Best known for their Steak in a Sacks, Camel Riders and Cherry Limeade drinks, the Sheik Sandwiches and Subs is one of Jacksonville’s largest Arab American sandwich chains. The Sheik is so popular that it was covered in a New York Times article about its menu being synonymous with the city’s dining scene. Operated by brothers Samir “Sam” and Munir “Mike Senior” Salameh, along with their wives Suad “Sue” and Basima, the Sheik’s first restaurant opened in 1972 at the intersection of 18th and Main in New Springfield. Today, there are eight locations operating throughout Northeast Florida.

Sleiman Enterprises

1 Sleiman Parkway

The story of Sleiman Enterprises dates back to 1950 when Lebanese couple Eli and Josephine Sleiman arrived in Jacksonville with little cash to their names. Saving and borrowing money, the couple opened the Lynwood Grocery Store on Pearl Street in Brentwood. In 1955, the couple began acquiring investment properties. Eli eventually began developing 7-Eleven locations throughout the Southeast. By 1970, the Sleimans were in ownership of office buildings, retail centers, apartments and a Ramada Inn at Jacksonville Beach. Now operated by sons Tony, Joe and Eli Jr., Sleiman Enterprises develops full grocery-anchored retail centers throughout the Southeast, and currently owns more than 90 properties totaling over five million square feet in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia.

Article originally published April 30, 2020. Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at