Hookah bar becomes latest addition to Simsum
September 8, 2003, 5:00 am·
Instead of the usual dinner and a movie, students can now head down to the 40th Street corridor for a more alternative evening activity.
Hookah -- an Eastern Mediterranean way of smoking flavored tobacco through a water pipe -- has made its debut at Simsum restaurant.
The addition of the new venue -- dubbed LaylaSimsum -- which opened last Thursday, stems from a collaboration between local business owner Amin Bitar and three entrepreneurial Penn students.
"I'd become discouraged not being able to figure out what was going on with this campus," Bitar said, "but this will be fun and different -- it may be what I've been looking for personally."
In mid-summer, Adnan Aziz, a College and Engineering senior, as well as Rishi Shah and Ronak Pandya, both seniors in Wharton, approached Bitar with a business plan to make Simsum -- which will be open four nights a week from 10:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. -- the new late night attraction of 40th Street.
"This street needs the cultural and comfortable environment that will draw the eastern part of campus and the freshmen in the Quadrangle to 40th Street," Bitar said, in admiration of the students' plan.
This cross-campus linkage has been one of Penn's many goals, and "people may even come in from Center City to enjoy this new cultural fusion," Bitar said.
Even though it's only been open for a few nights, the crowd at LaylaSimsum has been flowing out the doors -- and windows -- and all over the block.
"Layla means a 'night out' to relax," Shah said, "and that's just what we want to give Penn students."
"They're here because it's a great alternative to frat parties and hanging out in your room," Pandya said, and students echoed his sentiments.
"It's a top-notch innovative idea," said Chris Lee, an Engineering freshman who was enjoying a hookah with his friend Mostafa El-Hoshy, also a freshman in the Engineering school.
"I'm from Egypt... and it's a cultural thing," El-Hoshy said, glad to see that there was more to Penn nightlife than beer bongs and keg stands.
For decades, hookah has been a greatly misunderstood activity, according to Bitar.
"This is a respectable, reputable way of enjoying a culture that Penn students can appreciate while breaking certain erroneous stereotyping," Bitar said.
Pleased with the business' initial success, Aziz said, "This is changing the face of 40th Street."
Although Simsum and LaylaSimsum are two separate businesses -- the students use the space at the restaurant -- each can enjoy the benefits of the other.
LaylaSimsum is able to utilize Simsum's great location near Smokey Joe's right on 40th Street and Bitar can utilize the additional crowds to sell his restaurant's dishes.
People will come because "it's so much different than everything else going on," Bitar said.
The addition of the hookah bar to Simsum is one of several recent changes Bitar -- who owns several businesses throughout the city -- has made to his restaurant offerings near campus.
At the end of last year, he closed Bonne Crepe, formerly located at Moravian Cafe, in what he called "purely a business decision."