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Raffe's Deli, located a couple blocks west of Highland on Poplar, is a cross between a smoke shop, a convenience store, a deli, and a beer mart.

The owners, Al and Raffe Sakan, are Syrian immigrants, who arrived in Memphis 17 years ago. "We came here on a one-way ticket. We never visit [Syria]; this is our home now," Al Sakan explains. Because both he and his wife are handicapped and knew that it would be difficult to find jobs that would easily accommodate them, they decided to start their own business five years ago and just recently expanded their operations by adding Raffe's Beer Garden in an adjacent space in the same building.

At the deli, customers can buy the typical convenience-store wares, choose their favorite brew from an extensive collection of international and domestic beers, select a fine cigar, or order one of Raffe's popular sandwiches. Gyro, falafel, muffaletta (with Italian salami, ham, Provolone cheese, and olive salad dressing), "Chicago Heat," and "East & West" (with roast beef, corned beef, Swiss, and Provolone cheese) are only a few of the choices.

Although Raffe's diners have all that good stuff at their fingertips, the deli provides little room for eating in, and drinking in is impossible because, while the Sakans are allowed to sell beer, they don't have a license to serve it.

"Many of our customers like the large variety of beer, but they also want to be able to enjoy it here," says Al Sakan. "They can do that now in Raffe's Beer Garden."

The Beer Garden is a small gathering spot with a deli kitchen. All the beers sold in the deli are now available for consumption in the Beer Garden. Sakan plans a beer tasting in the near future, and the Pyramid Dancers, a bellydance group, will perform at Raffe's Beer Garden regularly.

Raffe's Beer Garden, 3358 Poplar (454-9988)

Michele D'Oto, chef/owner of Pasta Italia in Collierville, has had a busy year. Hurricane Katrina brought the native Italian to Memphis, and although he lost his home and business in Biloxi, it didn't take him long to open Pasta Italia. Now, barely a year later, he's taken on a new challenge: Caffe Italia, a coffee shop by day and a wine bar by night, serving casual food and snacks. Coffee shops that change "concepts" at night are not uncommon throughout Europe, and D'Oto leaned heavily on this tradition when he decided what Caffe Italia should be like.

Caffe Italia will open at 8 a.m. for the morning coffee and breakfast crowd, serving mostly pastries and paninis. The lunch menu is light, with lots of salads and sandwiches and a daily changing pasta dish.

For the evening and late-night crowd, the Caffe will transform into a piano bar, offering plenty of options from the full bar with food similar to the lunch menu.

"I was looking to create a place with extended hours that would attract a lot of different people and offer a different menu with more affordable prices," D'Oto explains.

Caffe Italia is scheduled to open in December.

Caffe Italia, 102 Mulberry (850-8363)

The Main Course by Frank Grisanti and Sons hit local stores almost a year ago, and more than half of the cookbook's original print run sold within the first three months. Now it's time for a "second helping." The book is filled with old family recipes as well as photos and stories about the Grisanti family. You can buy it at local bookstores or visit one of the upcoming book signings at Waldenbooks in Wolfchase Galleria, 5 p.m. Thursday, November 30th, and at the Brooks Collection (110 E. Mulberry, Collierville), 1 p.m., Saturday, December 2nd.

For more booksigning dates, visit www.frankgrisanti-embassy.com.

siba@gmx.com

Speaking of Raffe's Deli, beer Garden

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