by Stephen Samuels and Joanna Pratt
Our community lost a jewel with the closing of Terasol on New Year’s Day. But rather than mourn our loss, we would prefer to celebrate the joy that owners Alan Moin and Sabrina Ousmaal brought to our neighborhood over the past seven years.
Our first experience at Terasol was a birthday breakfast in November 2010, shortly after Terasol opened for business. Alan came by our table to introduce himself and before long we were conversing like old friends. We are always looking for opportunities for our jazz guitarist son, Evan Samuels, and as we were leaving Terasol we asked Alan whether he had considered having live music at his new restaurant. The next thing we knew, Evan was performing on New Year’s Eve to a packed room.
Evan continued to perform regularly at Terasol over the next seven years – more than 150 times altogether. This is no small thing for a jazz musician, where paying gigs are increasingly hard to come by no matter how talented one is. And Evan wasn’t the only local musician Alan and Sabrina supported. Terasol also provided a reliable venue for Said Tinat, Alex Martin, Stanley Ng, Dennis Malloy, and Swing Guitars, along with their frequent guest accompanists.
Said was the first musician hired at Terasol, and we could barely hold back the tears when he tenderly played “Auld Lang Syne” on Terasol’s final night.
Terasol did not need live music in order to succeed. The great food and friendly service (especially from our favorite server, Haydee) would have attracted an appreciative clientele even without live entertainment. But Alan and Sabrina believed that one of Terasol’s missions should be to provide opportunities to an array of local artists. That is why they featured not only live music, but also crafts created by local artisans Karen Bearman, Eileen Egan, Laurie Erdman, Jonathan Kirkendall, Sara Knox, Donna Lomangino, C. Marie Maus, William Pierce, Shiho Rice, Sherry Selevan, Amy Voss, and Jeff Watson, in addition to Sabrina herself.
As most readers undoubtedly know, owning and managing a restaurant, especially one that serves three meals a day and has no large outside investors, is no easy task. Alan personally shopped for fresh seafood, meats, and produce several times a week, then seemed always to be there when Terasol opened each morning and closed each night. When his staff was short-handed, Alan took orders and served food himself, even as he warmly greeted each guest at the door.
In its early days, Terasol had neither a complete kitchen nor a full-time chef. There were times we feared that Terasol simply wouldn’t make it. Instead Alan and Sabrina invested more of their own resources to expand the kitchen and hire an accomplished French chef. Before long, Terasol was “discovered” by those outside our immediate community, and was even named a “neighborhood gem” by Open Table.
But there were setbacks. During Pizzagate, one of the original “fake news” stories from the 2016 election (before that term was kidnapped to undermine real news), Terasol became a target of the alt right, possibly because Hillary Clinton had eaten there once. When we emailed Sabrina in late November 2016 and asked whether Terasol had been directly threatened, she responded: “Yes just the same as Comet [Ping Pong]. Hate calls, insulting emails, fake reviews stating that dinner was not enjoyable because they could hear kids being tortured in the non-existing basement. And yesterday non-stop hate calls, some stating they will kill us.”
On December 4, 2016, we sent Sabrina a follow-up email asking whether the hate attacks had lessened. Thirty minutes later we received this chilling response: “Shooting right now. Mitra [their daughter] and Alan on lock down. I am in pure panic.”
Later Sabrina told us of the hate-filled and threatening phone calls – every thirty seconds at their peak. Her pleas for help from the police had been met with the curt response that the perpetrators “have the right to express their views (true or false).” Sabrina had asked the phone company to block calls from unidentified callers, which undoubtedly led to fewer reservations. She had presciently mentioned at a meeting with nearby business owners that it would just take one crazy person with a gun.
Sabrina opined that the neighborhood businesses were “like the [Six Degrees of] Kevin Bacon of blocks. We all got slammed because of some connection with Hillary. Ours was simply that she dined at Terasol in 2012.”
Although the neighboring community responded with tremendous support for the businesses affected by Pizzagate, we’re not sure that Terasol ever fully recovered – especially emotionally. Yet Sabrina and Alan persisted, not in their own self-interest but for the benefit of the communities that they served: their loyal customers, the local musicians and artisans that they never wavered in supporting, and their dedicated staff.
A parting message on Terasol’s website says: “Thank you to all for your amazing support and for taking with us this wonderful voyage!”
No, actually, thank you, Alan and Sabrina, for taking us on this wonderful journey with you.
A message from Sabrina Ousmaal
We are so thankful to have met over the last decade since Terasol first opened the most amazing people who have since become friends. We love the neighborhood and are of it so we wanted to not only create a neighborhood kitchen but also a place where unknown artisans and musicians could be seen and heard. They honored us with their work and their talent.
Our staff was fantastic too.
Over the last 14 months we all have had to deal with the hate and ignorance of those who attacked us through calls, texts and life-threatening emails but were humbled to see the outpouring support of our neighborhood. We didn’t close because of their attacks as I would never want to give them the satisfaction. Yes, it was difficult to constantly be attacked for no other reason than hate and ignorance… at Terasol but also in our daily lives. Receiving an email stating you will be hurt in the worst of ways and sooner than you think shakes you. But our team – and we – stayed strong.
We closed because after 10 years of having the business [an artisan gallery in Chevy Chase in 2008, then Terasol Bistro and Artisan Gallery at 5010 Connecticut in 2010] we felt it was the time.
Terasol was a neighborhood place and who knows what our next chapter will be. As an artisan myself I will continue to do all I can to coordinate with local artisans. The conviviality will live on.