Yale students spending more money than they can afford on Gourmet Heaven sandwiches and sushi probably have come across one of New Haven’s more visible personalities, night manager Mohamad Masaud. But how well do they know the man they all love?
Masaud, who has been working at Gourmet Heaven the four and a half years it has been open, is known to countless students and New Haven residents simply as “Mohamad.”
“I know every single person in New Haven,” he said. “I can’t go anywhere. I have to go to New York City for someone not to know me.”
He added, though, that during his last visit to the Village at least 10 Yale students recognized and approached him.
Masaud was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and graduated from a culinary school there. He then moved to Saudi Arabia, where he served as a private chef to the king for eight years. After two years of studying culinary arts in Paris, he moved to New York seven years ago.
Masaud said he was working in restaurants in New York City and then East Hampton when he met the owner of Gourmet Heaven. Employed at the New York branch of Gourmet Heaven for nine months, Masaud finally came to New Haven to open up the one currently found at 15 Broadway.
College students, and especially the freshmen, are Masaud’s favorite part of his job.
“I wait every year for the new freshmen,” he said. “But I love every person in the school.”
Apparently, Yale students show Masaud an equal amount of love. He recalled that as he was walking home at 3 a.m. one morning, a student pulled him inside a party, shouting “Mohamad, you’re a celebrity!” The students inside then fought to give him drinks.
Masaud went for the first time to Toad’s on a Wednesday night last year and found a similar reception.
“I walk in and all the girls start screaming,” he said. “It was really funny.”
Even five or six mothers come to see him every year, having heard so much about him from their children.
“It makes me feel really good,” he said. “Loving people and people loving me.”
Masaud does have to deal with the perhaps more-than-occasional drunk student wandering in after hours. But he said that “this year is the best. No problems yet.”
He noted that last year was especially bad, with a number of Quinnipiac students getting into fights.
“Everybody has learned,” Masaud said.
He even sees students warning their inebriated friends not to enter the store.
“I hear them outside: ‘Don’t go to Gourmet Heaven drunk because Mohamad is crazy there,'” he said. “I hear it.”
Last year one freshman girl who came in, clearly intoxicated, started grabbing food and shoving it into her mouth, Masaud recalled. Masaud told her to respect the people working there and did not allow her back for some time. But he said this year she has changed.
“I love her this year because she is excellent,” she said. “Her friend came in drunk and started grabbing food, and the girl comes running up to me, going ‘I don’t know her.’ I love her, I swear.”
Masaud said the only time he doesn’t feel the love is when he is ringing up students’ groceries at the cash register.
“People sometimes blame me for prices, but I’m just working here,” he said.
Still, students do not hold their lean wallets against Masaud. After all, half of Yale students have crushes on him.
“He’s really cute — pretty is as pretty does,” Samantha Tonini ’07 said. “I love him.”
Mohamad isn’t just a local celebrity either — his reputation precedes him so that even pre-frosh know who he is.
“I heard his name even before I came to Yale,” Mike Schmidt ’08 said
And if there’s anything we’ve learned from E!, it’s that celebrities flock to each other. When asked about encounters with famous people, Masaud immediately answered.
“Barbara Bush is one of my best friends,” he said.