In Ridgewood, you can find many things in abundance: MTA buses, traffic jams, low-key bars, delicious restaurants, art galleries, as well as bodegas and their ever-popular egg sandwiches.
As far as I am aware, however, Ridgewood is home to only one single bodega owner turned Egyptian television political pundit, and the New York Times profiled him last week.
Hatem El-Gamasy’s story is an interesting one, experiences agglutinating toward an unexpected endpoint. Today, he owns Lotus Deli, a neighborhood staple bodega at the corner of Seneca Avenue and Summerfield Street. This isn’t where his tale begins, though.
El-Gamasy grew up in Monufia Governorate, a Nile River Delta province just north of Cairo. He worked there as an English teacher until 1999. Seeking to improve his trade, he enrolled in St. John’s University’s English as a Second Language program and moved to Brooklyn to attend.
To make ends meet in our notoriously expensive city, El-Gamasy took a deli job at a supermarket in Lower Manhattan. One day a psychotherapist by the name of Lynette Green came in; she asked for a sandwich with “extra vegetables,” he asked her out for pizza. Shortly after, Green and El-Gamasy married, and they’ve been together for 13 years and have two children, an 8-year-old son Omar and a 12-year-old daughter Faizah.
This brings us to Lotus Deli, best known for its excellent selection of craft beer and serious egg sandwiches—I had one (sausage, egg, and cheese, with salt, extra pepper, and extra hot sauce) and it was easily one of the top 5 SECs I’ve ever had.
El-Gamasy bought Lotus Deli about four years ago and found that it intersected with his long-time passion for politics.
Old-time residents and newly arrived denizens (he calls them “my hipsters”) alike frequent Lotus Deli. They represent every walk of life and every political opinion and, with El-Gamasy’s encouragement and participation, Lotus became the go-to spot for political discussions. This gave him unprecedented insight into the state of American politics. As he told the New York Times, “Most of the customers, they vent to the bodega owner. And actually, I listen.”
Politics has long been an interest of El-Gamasy’s, and as a hobby he’s been writing political OpEd pieces for Egyptian newspapers for years, long before immigrating to America. About a year ago he wrote a piece, correctly it turns out, predicting a Donald Trump election win. It caught the eye of staff at Nile TV, the official state broadcaster of Egypt, who invited him on for an interview. The calls for interviews haven’t stopped since.
Today, El-Gamasy is a trusted fixture on a number of Egyptian news stations. From a converted studio wallpapered in U.S. maps, found just behind a stack of potato chips in the back of Lotus, El-Gamasy streams live to television screens 5,600 miles away between three and six times a week.
He’s asked to discuss all things America, covering topics from our recent devastating hurricanes and immigration issues to Trump’s unstoppable flow of tweets and the increasingly worrisome North Korea situation. And he does it all with a great deal of integrity, researching topics rigorously beforehand and refusing to discuss any topic he doesn’t feel he knows well enough.
In the hustle of city life, you will find a lot of things. Buses and traffic, bars and restaurants, starving artists and well-fed ones. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people like El-Gamasy, whose singularly unique stories truly exemplify what it means to be a New Yorker.
Cover image via Google Maps.