Bethlehem ‘Corona Sandwich’ eases bite of tourism loss

When the pandemic left Bethlehem without visitors, Bannura needed a new source of income

Bethlehem (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) : When the coronavirus pandemic left Bethlehem without its hordes of visitors, tour guide Raed Bannura needed a new source of income.

His plan, a sandwich shop, was hardly revolutionary and the ingredients of his signature dish — meat with onions and spices wrapped in a tortilla — were certainly not groundbreaking.

Raed Bannura says the idea of setting up a snack bar named the "Corona Sandwich" struck him when he woke up one morning
Raed Bannura says the idea of setting up a snack bar named the “Corona Sandwich” struck him when he woke up one morning – Emmanuel DUNAND AFP

But, when it came to marketing, Bannura has grabbed attention.

“I have a special sandwich,” he told AFP. “I call it ‘Corona sandwich.'”

Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, hosts the majestic Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.

Corona sandwich gallery
When the coronavirus pandemic left Bethlehem without its hordes of visitors, tour guide Raed Bannura needed a new source of income. His plan, a sandwich shop, was hardly revolutionary and the ingredients of his signature dish – meat with onions and spices wrapped in a tortilla – were certainly not groundbreaking.Image Credit: AFP
Corona sandwich gallery
But, when it came to marketing, Bannura has grabbed attention. “I have a special sandwich,” he said. “I call it ‘Corona sandwich.'” Bethlehem hosts the majestic Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.Image Credit: AFP
Corona sandwich gallery
Before the pandemic, dozens of buses carrying pilgrims and other visitors would converge on the city each day from nearby Jerusalem. Now Bethlehem guides chase after the few remaining visitors, while craft stores and hotels have mostly closed.Image Credit: AFP
Corona sandwich gallery
While tourism revenue was evaporating, Bannura said he had a brain-flash one day at “six o’clock in the morning.” “I woke up my wife; I told her listen, I know what I’m gonna call this restaurant… Corona.” Her first response was to call him crazy.Image Credit: AFP

Before the pandemic, dozens of buses carrying pilgrims and other visitors would converge on the city each day from nearby Jerusalem through the towering Israeli-built grey concrete wall that encircles the West Bank.

Now Bethlehem guides chase after the few remaining visitors, while craft stores and hotels have mostly closed.

Corona sandwich gallery
“I told her, ‘this name will spread as fast as the virus,'” Bannura said. Located in the shadow of the basilica, the small cafeteria is easily spotted by its huge red and yellow “Corona Sandwich” sign. Also on the menu is the “Covid-19 hot-dog”, with a beef and lamb sausage.Image Credit: AFP
Corona sandwich gallery
As to whether the name lacks sensitivity towards the devastation coronavirus has wrought, Bannura said: “I know that people die, that corona is a disease. “But there are people who also die from sugar or tobacco and we do not ban those words from our vocabulary,” he said. “A philosopher once said that there is a hair’s breadth between genius and stupidity…I still don’t know on which side I am.”Image Credit: AFP
Corona sandwich gallery
Christmas is typically peak season for Bethlehem businesses, but many have lost hope of the traditional holiday boost. Ashraf Kawazba, frying falafel at the Abu Daoud restaurant, said that normally during Christmas holidays “everything is full and we work non-stop, but here it is dead.”Image Credit: AFP

Genius’ vs ‘stupidity

While tourism revenue was evaporating, Bannura said he had a brain-flash one day at “six o’clock in the morning.”

“I woke up my wife; I told her listen, I know what I’m gonna call this restaurant… Corona.”

Her first response was to call him crazy.

“I told her, ‘this name will spread as fast as the virus,'” Bannura said.

Located in the shadow of the basilica, the small cafeteria is easily spotted by its huge red and yellow “Corona Sandwich” sign.

Also on the menu is the “Covid-19 hot-dog”, with a beef and lamb sausage.

As to whether the name lacks sensitivity towards the devastation coronavirus has wrought, Bannura said: “I know that people die, that corona is a disease.

“But there are people who also die from sugar or tobacco and we do not ban those words from our vocabulary,” he said.

“A philosopher once said that there is a hair’s breadth between genius and stupidity…I still don’t know on which side I am.”

Corona sandwich gallery
Bethlehem mayor Anton Salman said he was “not expecting anything,” this Christmas season. “This year there is no tourism, no transportation, everything is frozen.” Salman said that since the outbreak of coronavirus unemployment in his city of around 30,000 people had more than doubled – to 37 percent from around 15 percent.Image Credit: AFP
Corona sandwich gallery
Bannura dreams of holding out until the tourists return, but does not intend to rename his restaurant even then. “I will keep the name,” he said. “Because people will come here, they will say, ‘I survived. I am proud, I am eating – and I am burying that ‘corona’.”Image Credit: AFP
Corona sandwich gallery
Raed Bannura is pictured at his restaurant the “Corona Sandwich”. When the coronavirus pandemic left Bethlehem without its hordes of visitors, Bannura needed a new source of income. Located in the shadow of the Church of Nativity basilica, his small cafeteria is easily spotted by its huge red and yellow “Corona Sandwich” sign.Image Credit: AFP

Quiet Christmas?

Christmas is typically peak season for Bethlehem businesses, but many have lost hope of the traditional holiday boost.

Ashraf Kawazba, frying falafel at the Abu Daoud restaurant, said that normally during Christmas holidays “everything is full and we work non-stop, but here it is dead.”

Bethlehem mayor Anton Salman told AFP he was “not expecting anything,” this Christmas season.

“We have never known anything like this,” he said, including the Palestinian uprisings, or intifadas, of 1987-93 and 2000-2005.

“During the First and the Second Intifada it was difficult, but there were still tourism opportunities,” he added.

“This year there is no tourism, no transportation, everything is frozen.”

Salman said that since the outbreak of coronavirus unemployment in his city of around 30,000 people had more than doubled — to 37 percent from around 15 percent.

Bannura dreams of holding out until the tourists return, but does not intend to rename his restaurant even then.

“I will keep the name,” he said. “Because people will come here, they will say, ‘I survived. I am proud, I am eating — and I am burying that ‘corona’.”

AFP

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s