Thursday, March 1, 2012
AZAR’S – AN UNEXPECTED AREA GIFT
We’ve all gotten that unexpected gift during the holidays. You remember THE one. You weren’t sure about it, you didn’t ask for it, but you happily accepted it. Now looking back, you couldn’t imagine life without it. For the last 23 years, Azar’s has been an area gift, a favorite stop for Mediterranean food. The creation of the business in Hampton Roads was a complete surprise for Azar’s Lebanese owners Lina & Tony Saady, or the gift they didn’t ask for but happily accepted. Tony remembers it well; “My In-Laws were on their way to Florida from the Northeast for a vacation after selling the family restaurant. Car problems in Virginia Beach stopped the trip after this detour to see some family. It took more than a week for parts to arrive to fix the car, but in that time they decided to stay in Virginia Beach. They even bought a house; my wife and I then join shortly after and went to work on our business.” Azar’s, Lina’s maiden name, opened in 1988 operating from that house,
selling those now well-known Middle Eastern and Mediterranean treats still today, grouped with multiple area restaurants that still make an impressive 90% of the food that is served. Good food brings patrons back to Azar’s again and again with a longevity that now stretches over generations and in-between military assignments to the area. “We’ve had a lot of repeat customers over the years and now we see their kids and even grandkids come into our stores and that is just cool to see. And, we have those military families that come see us, like us and then return after working in the Middle East and want that food experience again when they return here to work and live.” The Saady’s love that loyalty, but stay creative to expand their customer base. With the current economy, they’ve taken 2 distinct menus, one lunch and the other dinner and combined them to create lower priced meal, especially for evening dining. A new growth area for Tony has been catering. “We do office parties, box lunches and weddings from 30 guests to 300. It’s business that has come mainly from referrals, but it is something that we are certainly focused on because we have the staff, the know-how and facilities to do it.” Azar’s has also returned to its original business plan that started this unexpected journey in Hampton Roads. After dropping their direct wholesale business, Azar’s products are now distributed in bulk to restaurants and universities. So, when you open that unexpected gift this year that you’re not sure about, give a quick thought to a broken down car and 23 years of success at Azar’s and give it a chance.