Musa, who goes by John, will be celebrating his sixth year of owning and running United Deli on the corner of Garner Blvd. and Tuscaloosa Road in February. The deli is located inside the Citgo gas station, which Musa runs with his wife Nima.
They have four children. The oldest, Yasra, who is 12 years old helps run the register and makes sandwiches. Her three little brothers, Michel, who is six; Yazed, 4; and Abdulgny, who is seven months old, don’t help as much, but can often be seen around the store visiting with customers and playing.
Musa is from The Republic of Yemen and moved to the United Stated in 1992. Formerly employed in the military, Musa got a job in a deli his uncle managed in Washington.
There, he says, he found that one of the secrets to a good sandwich is the bread… specifically, fresh baked soft French bread.
From there he moved to Memphis, where he says he did a lot of deli research. He then opened a restaurant in Brooksville for a short time, but decided to move his operation to Columbus so he would not have to try to compete with the Mennonite’s bakery.
After settling in at the Citgo, his wife Nima was able to move to America in 2005. Ever since then, he says, he cannot work without his family beside him.
“In the beginning, I was by myself and it was hard,” he said. “Staying by myself and working was difficult… now I can’t work without them.”
Musa joked that he sometimes tells customers that they should try working with their wives sometimes, but quickly amended that he “really enjoys working with her and his family all the time.”
The Musa’s have raised their kids on quite a few sandwiches but say they cook traditional Middle Eastern food at home. The restaurateur said his brood is very close-knit. Since he is with his wife and children all day at work, they try to drive around together on Saturdays. Musa said they will go to the lake, or to Starkville, but if they don’t have anything going on, they just come into the shop and work.
Musa said he has tried keeping his kids away from the restaurant, but that customers will ask where they are, and that they are fond of them.
“I know sometimes people want to go to a quiet place and be comfortable, but this is like a home,” he tried to explain. “At a home there are kids running around.”
For some customers it makes their day to see the children. One couple, Clint and Mary Parrish, who live at Trinity Place Personal Care Retirement Center down the street, come in daily and play with the kids while they drink coffee.
“We enjoy coming here,” said Clint. “These are wonderful people. They have wonderful food, we just enjoy it.”
“Sometimes my wife just hands ‘em the kids when they come in,” smiled Musa. “They enjoy taking care of them.”
The family, along with two employees, Tamara Jacob and Hanna Otts, make sandwiches 3-24 inches long piled high with fresh meats, cheeses and veggies. Their most popular sandwiches, according to Musa, are the John’s special: a French roll with roast beef, turkey, ham, cheddar and Swiss, with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles or their hamburgers/cheeseburgers. Musa’s personal favorites are the gyros and the French dip sandwiches.
In addition to classic deli sandwiches and American favorites, Musa serves a lot of baklava, a sweet pastry made with chopped nuts and covered in honey.
Musa said their employees and customers are members of their family. “This is a great community,” he said. “I like to be a part of it.”
United Deli is open Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. and can be reached at 662-328-5105.