When Ziad Estephan and brother Roger opened Byblos Cafe in 2001, their goal was a simple one.
"We wanted to give south Tampa a taste of Middle Eastern cuisines," said Ziad Estephan.
An added bonus for the health conscious: The menu at the restaurant, 2832 S. MacDill Avenue, is largely low-fat, chock full of flavorful items like hummus, grape leaves and fatayer (homemade dough stuffed with fresh spinach).
And the restaurant isn't just known for its food. Belly dancers and a hookah are also available for patrons, in addition to a late-night menu for bar hoppers.
We recently talked to Ziad Estephan - who named the restaurant after the city in Lebanon where he's from - about what sets his business apart from others and his advice for longevity in the restaurant industry.
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On what sets his restaurant apart from others: "The location, but also the food quality and the ambiance. The enterterinment, too. We have belly dancers on Friday and Saturday's. They come in, in a family-oriented, nice, tasteful setting. They come as you have dinner and dance. Some like to dance with them."
The food specialties: "We have a bunch. The few main ones are the kibobs. They come in three variations. Hummus. We have the best hummus. We make everything fron scratch. We don’t buy anything frozen. Falafel is from scratch. It’s a two day process. You have to soak the beans overnight, and the next day, grind them and add garlic and cilantro and different spices and herbs. And then you fry it."
His vision for the restaurant: "I see our next step is to do the late nights here. We used to stop serving at 11 (pm) in the kitchen. We want to have the other option. South Tampa is a late night spot, people like to go out late. Our kitchen will be open until 12. From 10:30 p.m. and up, we have a special menu, reduced prices, and special drink specials."
Longevity tips for business owners: "You have to separate yourself from others. You really have to have something separate you. South Tampa is word of mouth. It doesn’t matter how much you advertise, it's word of mouth. They come if you do well. If you're not good, you go down quick. I've seen people open and close quick. I've seen people open after us and flourish because of good quality of food."
Contact the restaurant at Bybloscafe.com or 813-805-7977.
Have you been to Byblos Cafe? Tell us in the comments.