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A Conversation with William Labad 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
You may have strolled past William Labad in front of his family's store, Labad's Mediterranean Grocery, on Penn Avenue in the Strip District, which he co-owns with his brother Larry. Perhaps he's even made your lunch at their sidewalk gyro/falafel stand, or invited you in for a tiny yet forceful cup of his special Syrian coffee. (It's made with cardamom, so it's less bitter than an Italian espresso.) But it's his face you will recall most vividly, as it features one of the most impressive mustaches in all of Pittsburgh.

How long have you had this mustache?

I've had it this way for two-and-half years. I watched an old movie on TV -- it was an American movie, very old, from like the '20s or '30s -- and saw how they do the mustache. I tried it and people liked it, so I keep it that way.

It's not like a traditional ethnic mustache or something?

Well, back home in Syria, when you have a big mustache, you are something. The bigger the mustache, the bigger the man, like you have power.

So, if one were to travel to Syria, one might find lots of men with luxurious mustaches like yours?

Oh yeah. A lot of fancy mustaches, and big mustaches! The longer you grow it, the heavier it is, the stronger you are. This is what they say: "Strong mustache you have, strong man you are." It is important to feel like a man.

Are there people whose mustaches you aspire to?

All our family has big mustache!

Do you see people in Pittsburgh imitating you?

No, but lots of people stop to take pictures of my mustache. They put them on the Internet for me because they like it. It was bigger than this, though. Last week I cut two inches off. It was growing over my head, almost over my eye. People were saying it was too long.

The trend with some younger American men is that sort of "trucker mustache," one that comes down and connects with the beard. Yours is more ornate and old fashioned.

When you want to grow a mustache, you have to focus on your face first. You wanna see if it looks good on you. A long mustache is not gonna look great on all faces. Some faces need a small mustache; some need a big one. Of course, you have to have strong whiskers to grow a good one. And some people use wax, but then it can feel stiff, like rope. I like it to feel soft and nice to the touch.

When did you come to Pittsburgh?

Ten years ago. My family has been in the United States since almost 1883. My great-grandfather was born in the United States. Immigration changed the spellings on our last name, sometimes you see "Labbadd," "Labbaddie," or "Labaden."

Do you miss Syria?

Syria is the most beautiful country, and Damascus is the oldest city in the world. Pennsylvania weather is very close to Syria's; we have spring, summer, fall, winter. Lots of rain and overcast skies. We have some desert, but it's more like it is here. I want to go back to visit, but I love America and Pittsburgh is great. My favorite city.

Have you always been in the grocery business?

Actually, I am a contractor. I do house-painting, remodeling, drywall, you name it. I help my brother at the store in my free time.

Doesn't the construction dust interfere with your mustache?

I have to wash it every day, morning and night. I have to clean it all the time.

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