Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Mitcheal Salem, 1914-2012: Restaurateur helped found city mosque

Mitcheal Salem, a bar and restaurant owner for decades who was a founding member of Toledo’s first mosque, died Thursday in Ebeid Hospice Residence, Toledo. He was 98.

He had congestive heart failure.

“His body was tired,” his son, Rick, said. “He lost eyesight a few years ago [and] his hearing; arthritis had taken his ability to walk. Mentally he was amazing. He spoke eloquently.”

His first venture, in 1939, was Salem’s Bar, on Adams Street in downtown Toledo. The down payment, $1,500, came largely from his savings after nine years of low pay and relentless work — seven-day weeks, 12-hour days — at Ganoom’s Silver Moon Soda Grill.

He and his family spent nearly a decade in Springfield, Mass., hometown of his wife, Nafie, but returned to Toledo in the early 1950s. He bought the Lincoln Bar on Monroe Street near Bancroft Street, which he operated for 17 years. He later owned the Southland Lounge and, finally, the Ottawa Tavern, a legendary venue near the University of Toledo.

“My father was a stickler for details, much to my chagrin,” said his son, owner of Rick’s City Diner, who worked with his father at the Ottawa Tavern. The elder Mr. Salem could survey his stock — the amount left in bottles, for instance — and calculate how much was sold and how much should be in the till.

“My father was probably one of the most astute businessmen,” his son said. “I didn’t realize it at the time.”

Mr. Salem took time to discuss history or current events with the construction workers who were daily customers and the professionals who might stop by weekly.

“Everybody was equal. That’s a lesson I learned from my dad,” his son said.

He was born Jan. 8, 1914, in Danbury, Conn., to Amina and Mahmoud Elkhatib. ‘Salem’ was a variation on his father’s middle name. The family returned to his parents’ native Lebanon when he was a child. He decided at age 12 that he would move back to America and at 15 arrived in Toledo, where his father had relatives.

He attended Macomber Vocational High School and was a graduate of Libbey High School. The Great Depression and his Toledo employment dashed his hopes of studying art in Chicago. He still drew, and the pen-and-ink portraits he produced until he was 90 are cherished by family members, his son said. He was a woodworker and made furniture even after he lost his sight.

“Art and building things were his meditation,” his son said.

Mr. Salem was chairman of the dedication committee for the first mosque in Toledo and in Ohio, which was officially opened in 1955 on East Bancroft Street near Cherry Street. Mr. Salem, as chairman of the dedication committee, said a few words to the assembled, who included Toledo Mayor Ollie Czelusta and other political and religious leaders, according to an essay by Hanady Awada in the book Arab Americans in Toledo.

“It was a great and highly emotional experience of my life,” said Mr. Salem, as quoted in the essay. “We had finally established a place to worship, educate our youth, and meet socially.”

In a profile by his nephew Rob Salem, Mr. Salem said: “We were very proud of the building when it was completed. We felt we had a home and Toledo welcomed us with open arms.”

Mr. Salem was president of the mosque in 1967 and 1968. The congregation moved in 1983 to Perrysburg Township, and he remained a member of what is now the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo and was a former chairman of its board of elders.

He and his wife, Nafie, married Sept. 10, 1944. She died Feb. 28, 2006.

Surviving are his son, Rick Salem; daughters, Jo-Anne Salem and Cindy Hairabedian; brothers, Ahmad and Riad Elkhatib; two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Visitation is to be at Ansberg-West Funeral Home from 4 to 8 p.m. today. Services are to be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Masjid Saad Foundation, Sylvania.

The family suggests tributes to Ebeid Hospice Residence or a charity of the donor's choice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.

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