New Sheesh Mediterranean restaurant opens in Ann Arbor, bringing La Shish menu with it
Janet Miller | Contributor
Mike Ibrahim and Abe Tarhini are picking up where La Shish left off. The two former long-time employees of the popular Dearborn-based chain of Middle Eastern restaurants plan to open Sheesh Mediterranean Cuisine in downtown Ann Arbor Thursday.
They are using the same menu and recipes from La Shish, and are hoping to capitalize on La Shish’s popularity but distance themselves from the legal troubles that eventually shuttered the chain.
It will be the third Sheesh restaurant in a growing chain and will have seating for 70 in its 2,400 square feet of space. The success of the first Sheesh, opened in Livonia in 2008, paved the way for a second location in Clawson, Ibrahim said. And the success of the first two provided the financial resources needed to open the Ann Arbor restaurant, located in the space formerly occupied by short-lived Pita Bite at 207 N. Main.
After working at La Shish for 18 years, eventually as a manager, Ibrahim said he was shocked when the chain closed and angry at its owners. He spent seven months unemployed, losing his investment house and wondering about his future.
The idea of opening a restaurant of his own had never occurred to him. “I thought I was going to stay with La Shish. It was a very successful concept,” Ibrahim said. “Before it closed, I never had the courage. After 18 years, I had to start all over again, but it gave me the courage. Some good has come out of it. I am now my own boss.”
Ibrahim took his life savings and turned to friends and family (his parents in Lebanon sold a piece of property to help underwrite the venture) for financial backing to open the Livonia restaurant.
“Ann Arbor is a good market,” Ibrahim said. He and Tarhini bought Pita Bite from owner Fayz Ista and took over his five-year lease. They have upgraded the interior, adding plush tapestries, artwork, custom-made booths and a brick oven that will be used to bake their signature bread. “We are classing the place up, making it more elegant,” Ibrahim said. Ista, who opened Pita Bite in June, said he wanted to move back to Chicago.
Ibrahim said he expects to hire 15 to 20 people, adding to the 40 employees Sheesh has already.
Ibrahim and Tarhini opened the Livonia restaurant as partners and took on a third partner, another displaced La Shish worker, to open the Clawson restaurant. In the future, Ibrahim said, they hope to partner with other former La Shish employees to open more locations. “Ann Arbor will tell me what to do next,”” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim said the closing of the La Shish restaurants left a void, and old customers have returned. They understand, he said, that he and Tarhini were not part of the legal issues that destroyed La Shish. The La Shish chain, with 12 restaurants around metropolitan Detroit, folded in spring 2008 after owner Talal Chahine and his wife, Elfat El Aouar, were indicted on federal tax evasion charges.
Sheesh will have competition: Palm Palace opened up at the site of the former Pittsfield Township La Shish, later called Charlie’s La Shish, when owner Charlie Bazzi tried to distance himself from the legal problems that embroiled the La Shish chain. Palm Palace, at Carpenter Road and Washtenaw Avenue at the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti border, was also opened by former La Shish employees and offers a similar menu.
There are other Mediterranean restaurants in Ann Arbor, as well as an example of a recently failed one. Yoshi’s, also located downtown and with a Middle Eastern menu, closed its doors at the end of 2009.
“I have the challenge to be No. 1 in Ann Arbor,” Ibrahim said. “I’m taking the challenge.”
Sheesh Mediterranean Cuisine
207 N. Main St., Ann Arbor
Phone: (734) 585-5196
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Menu: Hummus, kibbee, falafel and more. Top seller: chicken sheesh tawook ($13.99) and lamb chops ($20.99). Prices range from $3.50 for a falafel sandwich up.
For more information on Sheesh Mediterranean Cuisine, visit AnnArbor.com's restaurant guide.