Lebanese restaurant, lounge brings Beirut flair to Michigan
Submitted by admin on Thu, 08/18/2011 - 15:07
By Nick Meyer
In Lebanon, the Gemmayze is one of the liveliest, trendiest sections of Beirut, a city which just happens to be one of the top tourist attractions in the world.
Recently, a trio of young Lebanese entrepreneurs saw the same spirit in Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb, and decided it was the perfect place to bring some of the old country's neighborhood spirit to the area in the form of their new restaurant and lounge, Gemmayze.
Business partners Elias Hajjar, his cousin Nicholas Aubrey, and Charles Thomas, all of Lebanese descent, opened the restaurant in May 2011 with the vision of providing a modernistic dining and entertainment experience.
"We wanted to create a new world Lebanese restaurant, something that is more current with what is happening in Beirut right now," Hajjar said.
"From the décor to the colors, layout, and menu, it is all reflective of what's happening in Beirut and Gemmayze."
Hajjar's family has a long history in the restaurant business, having run their own restaurants in Toledo, Ohio since 1977. Aubrey's family owns parking businesses in Detroit as well.
Hajjar, the lead chef, spent many of those years learning how to cook and/or create the family's signature favorites such as hummus, grape leaves, and kibbee, all made from scratch and passed down from generation to generation.
After he got the basics down, Hajjar started experimenting with different flavors and more Mediterranean flair with dishes inspired by Greek and Italian creations along with French cuisine as well.
Among the most popular dishes thus far are the sumac-encrusted tuna, the lamb shank osso buco (served in a tomato sauce with carrots and celery), kafta (meat) burger and the ara-yes halabi, which is kafta stuffed in pita bread and then toasted.
The dining room has been packed with crowds ranging from college students to grandparents according to Hajjar, and the lounge area upstairs has always been bustling since the restaurant opened.
Gemmayze features a full bar stocked with many popular Lebanese beers and wines, and guests often head up to the lounge after their meals, especially on the weekends, to have a few drinks with friends.
Oftentimes, they also snack on mezza, or appetizers, for which there are about 25 different choices, as DJs spin American and Lebanese club-style music.
"It becomes more than going out to eat, it's about having an experience and being entertained," Hajjar said."
The spirited atmosphere of the lounge and the restaurant are modeled after the Gemmayze style according to Hajjar. Patrons in the lounge can be overheard exclaiming "Kassuk!" which is a word in Lebanon used to say "cheers!" during a night out in Gemmayze.
"People around here are always talking about Gemmayze," he said. "The Lebanese people have been through so much so they're looking for ways to release themselves, Gemmayze was born out of that...we're trying to give people the same kind of experience here."
Aubrey is also fond of the area and hopes his new restaurant can live up to the legacy of the great gathering places in Lebanon.
"Gemmayze is a very modern place where all the young people in Beirut go out to, so it's very fitting, and absolutely we want to be just like it," he said.
Private parties are also hosted in the lounge and catering has been a hit as well. The private room can accommodate up to 120 people.
The restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. each day and closes at 10 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 11 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, midnight Friday-Saturday, and 10 p.m. on Sunday. The bar usually stays open until 2 a.m. on the weekends.