When the Subway on Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park moved out and the landlord offered Mitchell Abou Jamra, the owner of Evette’s, the Lebanese-Mexican restaurant next door, a deal on the rent, Abou Jamra jumped at it. He envisioned opening a wine shop, but, as he has learned since the fall of 2020 when his restaurant first opened, nothing ever goes according to plan, especially during a pandemic. So this Saturday, January 29, he’ll be opening All Too Well, a market that sells prepared food, Lebanese breads and pastries, and breakfast and deli sandwiches.
Abou Jamra isn’t too unhappy with how things have worked out, though. His family has worked in butcher shops since they arrived in Flint, Michigan, from Lebanon in the 1920s, and later generations expanded into delis and convenience stores. The deli sandwiches at All Too Well pay tribute to his family. Gido the Butcher (Lebanese meatballs, shakshuka marinara, mozzarella, pickled onions, and shredded lettuce on a French hoagie), for example, is named for his grandfather, while Cin’s Eden (chicken salad on tomato focaccia) is named for his mother, and the Niff Jen (turkey, gouda, pomegranate mustard seeds, and fig jam on a ciabatta roll) is for his wife, Jennifer. Cousins (tomatoes, feta, beet pesto, and baba ganoush on tomato focaccia) is self-explanatory. In the morning, the counter will serve zaatar flatbread, labneh, and vegetables, which happens to be the same breakfast Abou Jamra ate every morning growing up.
“That family history,” he says, “that’s where it comes from. All Too Well is indirectly paying homage to Gido, while Evette’s is paying homage to Teta, my grandmother.” The name of the store itself is a reference to how the Jamra family knows the meat business all too well, although Abou Jamra admits it was the Taylor Swift song that helped him come to this conclusion.
The deli counter will be open from early in the morning till mid-afternoon, while the store will stay open until early evening. It stocks chips and crackers, dips and spreads, pasta, and gummy bears and will eventually offer ready-made sandwiches and comfort foods like lemon chicken and couscous. “If we’re being honest, it’s just Foxtrot,” Abou Jamra says, noting that there are two locations of the upscale convenience store within a mile radius of All Too Well. “The main draw will be the sandwiches.”
All Too Well will share a kitchen with Evette’s, which saved Abou Jamra the trouble of training new staff in the middle of a COVID surge. “We have skilled cooks at Evette’s,” Abou Jamra says. “Here’s, it’s just sandwiches. If you can’t train people to make sandwiches, you’ve got other problems.”
Eventually, All Too Well will sell alcohol, but that may take a few months. The reason is because of a bizarre zoning ordinance that prohibits liquor licenses from being issued to businesses on just that one half-block. There are bars across the street and even on the other side of the alley, but Prohibition never ended on the 350 block of Armitage. This is what killed Abou Jamra’s dream of a wine store. According to legend, this was the work of a wealthy teetotaler with a lot of clout, but now, Abou Jamra says, his alderman is working on getting the block rezoned.
The most important part for Abou Jamra, though, is that now he’s become part of a family tradition. “This is the store I want out there,” he says. “I’m not doing this because it’s cool. It’s in my family. It’s what we’ve done since we’ve come here to America. I feel like I’m contributing to that history.”
All Too Well, 352 W. Armitage Avenue, Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily for breakfast and lunch; store open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.