BROOKINGS – Brookings will soon offer its residents and visitors a new dining experience with a taste of Italy.
Mama Mia, 1300 Main Ave. S., has a target date for opening at the beginning of April.
“The menu will be basically Italian food, casual Italian food, priced reasonably,” owner and executive chef Hamodi Siam said. “We want to keep those prices low, so the menu is not going to be complicated: pastas, a little bit of seafood in the beginning. We’ll have salmon, shrimp, calamari, the basic things you’d see in a little Italian restaurant.”
As to how many customers can be served, he said, “We’ve got about 90 chairs in here. I’d say we can seat about 80 comfortably.”
“I eventually want to open up for lunches, do some catering. It’s going to be a small operation here, because my kitchen’s pretty small,” Siam added.
Mama Mia will employ a state of the art point-of-sale system that will provide for the utmost in efficiency and customer service, Siam said. The system will track a diner’s order from the time it’s placed through food preparation, service and payment of the tab.
“It will not only send an order to the kitchen, but at the end of the night it will tally up all your sales,” he added.
The system will also ensure that orders are delivered to the right table: “You know where the food goes, just by the ticket.”
Over time the restaurant’s regular menu could be expanded.
“I’d like to bring in some different specials,” Siam explained. “I love doing braised rabbit or duck or lamb shanks, things like that. Those are going to be a little higher-priced tickets. We’ll probably do those on the weekends, sell them as specials, see how Brookings reacts to them.”
At home in Arizona
A well-trained chef, experienced restaurateur and world traveler, Siam has been a long time in finding his way to Brookings. Born in Jerusalem in 1963, he spent his early childhood in Ann Arbor, Mich., where his father was studying languages at the University of Michigan.
After completing his studies in 1969 or 1970, Siam senior was employed at the University of Arizona (Tucson).
“We were supposed to go back (to Jerusalem), but with the war and everything, it was just too crazy,” Hamodi added.
His father was a linguist, fluent in about a dozen languages.
“We lived in so many different countries, third-world countries mostly. I’ve been in Dubai; Abbu Dabi; Cairo, Egypt; Lebanon. When he traveled, we’d go with him,” Siam said.
However, in time his mother tired of traveling and the family settled in Tucson, where Siam attended high school and got a feeling for what would be his life’s calling. About this time he found a liking for jobs affiliated with cooking and restaurants.
“I found myself doing kitchen jobs,” he explained. “I loved cooking; I loved food. I loved culture and cuisine. I think a lot of it marries together old world history and food. It’s just a round circle, really, if you look at everything around it.”
After graduating from high school, Siam went to work in a small family restaurant, a steakhouse.
“In Arizona they have a lot of steakhouses where you kind of wear cowboy attire and you’re cooking in front of the diners.” He went on at about 19 to be general manager, “running the front and back of the house.”
However, the job proved stressful and Siam found he didn’t “have much passion for the front of the house. I really wanted to learn more about cooking than just flipping steaks and burgers.”
Student, instructor, chef
Following work at “a couple nice restaurants in Tucson,” Siam’s next stop in 1989 was Scottsdale Culinary Institute, in Scottsdale, Ariz., where in 1991 he graduated with top honors.
He followed that with an internship at Scottsdale Princess Resort, a five-star, five-diamond restaurant, and stayed for seven years. Following that, he worked in resorts and hotels for about 20 years and taught at Scottsdale Culinary Institute.
Siam also tried his hand at catering, opening a small business in Chandler, Ariz., where he served a wide variety of cuisine, party styles and dinners, catering functions for as many as 800 people.
He closed his catering business at the end of 2001, and early in 2002 he went back to working as a chef at The Boulders Resort in Carefree, Ariz.
West River, East River
Siam was working as an executive chef in Sedona, Ariz., in 2016, when he saw an ad for an executive chef’s position at Minerva’s in Rapid City. He applied and got the job.
“It seemed like a great operation,” he said. “I figured to get back into the corporate structure.”
One morning while having breakfast at IHop, Siam, his wife Christin, their son Majid and daughter Nour were sitting near Suzanne Bielfeldt of Brookings.
They talked about the restaurant business, and Siam learned that a Brookings restaurant, The Dixie, had recently closed. Other eateries that had occupied the 1300 Main Ave. S. location included Mad Jack’s, a sandwich shop; a burrito shop; Taste of Europe; and Italian Gardens.
Around Thanksgiving 2016, Siam visited Brookings and decided to make the move here from West River. Now he’s getting ready to serve his customers “homemade, housemade, from scratch” dishes.
“I’m not a total snob when it comes to institutional food, but I like to make everything that I can from scratch,” he explained. “I think quality is there. I think people know the difference of homemade food, housemade food versus truck food. It’s just not the same.”
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]