Q: How would you describe your restaurant experience so far?
A: The restaurant world has taught me how strong a man’s body is. As a kid, I never got the dose of reality that I did after the first year of employment. It wasn’t until I opened a restaurant that I realized there was another level of energy. Restaurants are made for people crafted out of steel, and they’re not for the faint of heart. It’s perfection, 24/7. The seat you don’t sell today can’t be sold tomorrow, and your product must be reinvented daily. I will always hire a restaurateur to go into other industries, but I will not hire anyone from the outside to be a restaurateur. It takes a special breed.
Q: Tell me more about your childhood.
A: It was magical, adventurous, tragic and horrific, all at the same time. That was what living in Lebanon was all about when you were growing up in a conflict zone. There’s never really time to be a child; you’re an adult as soon as you can stand, in essence. When I compare my childhood with my colleagues’, I realize there is a child penned up in me, looking to have fun and just be a kid.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to make for your family?
A: I keep family meals simple. Perfectly roasted chicken, whole roasted fish with farm market vegetables; the simpler the better.
Q: What restaurants inspired Ilili?
A: None, it has been in my brain since 1989. It is a very personal story of perseverance, of the American dream. Take a guy out of a war zone, give him the opportunity to have a normal life, tell him that he has his rights and see what he can do. It comes from the line between survival and creativity.