What can you tell us about the new ilili branch in Washington, D.C.?
ilili officially opened its doors in D.C. on October 7. We have a magnificent space at The Wharf, with a warm, festive environment. We have poured our hearts and souls into this restaurant and believe it will make an impact on our nation’s capital. D.C.’s restaurant scene has evolved so much in recent years. When I left D.C. in 2005, after working at Georgetown’s Neyla, it seemed to be at the beginning of an incredible surge that has lasted and continues today. We’re proud to be a part of it and feel that ilili has a lot to offer toward the city’s growth.
How has the public responded to the new opening?
Better than we could have ever imagined! D.C. has embraced us so warmly, and we are thrilled with the positive response.
Ilili has become a reference for Lebanese food in New York. To what you attribute its success?
Nearly 15 years ago, when people were questioning my sanity in opening a 10,000-square-foot independent restaurant in Manhattan, I knew I had something to prove. I was taking Lebanese cuisine from street food, which is how most Americans recognized it at the time, to a higher level. We set ourselves the task of educating people and making sure Lebanese food was given a seat at the global table. This takes work, dedication and hardships to reposition a cuisine, especially in a market like New York City. I carried the weight of my family’s history and reputation and put a lot of pressure on my team to be consistent. I must give credit to the opening team who remained steadfast in their commitment to excellence. They all worked so hard to become ambassadors of Lebanese cuisine and culture. I truly believe we have given Lebanese food a new platform, and while it was no easy task, we are thankful for the opportunity.
Do you have any expansion plans?
We are completely focused on D.C. and New York right now, but I do hope that we will be able to think about expanding further in the future.