ALBANY PARK — Lebanon Bites’ owner wants to highlight authentic Lebanese food when he opens his cafe the second week of April in Albany Park.
Owner Zouheir Chalouf has been renovating the storefront at 4639 N. Kedzie Ave. since December, and the city granted him his business licenses earlier this month.
Chalouf now just needs to make final touches: He has to set up the seating area, which will have room for about 50 diners; prepare the cafe’s website and social media accounts; and finalize the menu, he said.
If all goes according to plan, Chalouf should be open for customers in early to mid-April, he said.
The address is the former home of Semiramis Mediterranean. That restaurant closed last year.
Chalouf developed his love of food while growing up in Tripoli, the largest city in northern Lebanon, he said. The region is known for dishes like halawet el-jibn, a cheese dessert made with fresh cream, rose water and syrup and covered with pistachios and edible rose petals, he said.
And Chalouf’s idea for the restaurant came from craving those same meals.
Chalouf moved to Chicago about six years ago, and he, his wife and kids had a taste for dishes they enjoyed back home. They found food from many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants in Chicago was too “Americanized” for their tastes, he said.
“They’re not authentic. It’s 100 percent a commercial decision, I understand that,” Chalouf said. “But that’s the reason I want to open a restaurant: I want to try my best to bring the best food I can to people.”
Chalouf hopes the cafe will become a hangout for neighbors who want to stop by for a snack while they wait for the nearby Brown Line train, drink coffee while they work or meet friends for a meal.
Chalouf’s also installing televisions, and he’s making sure there are electrical outlets near seats so customers can charge their phones and laptops and work from his cafe.
“This is going to be a very cozy cafe for people to come in,” Chalouf said. “I want people to feel welcome.”
Chalouf is still finalizing the menu and sourcing as many authentic ingredients as he can to replicate the dishes he wants to have on the menu, like halawet el-jibn.
“There are certain ingredients that are definitely a little harder to get in Chicago. But I will try my best,” Chalouf said.
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