A father and son team has opened The Olives Branch Mediterranean Grill in Marbella Plaza to offer family-style dining with a Lebanese flair.
“We’re introducing our food to San Juan Capistrano because there is nothing like us in this community,” said co-owner Omar Chmait, the son in the father-son duo.
The restaurant and hookah lounge have already become a weekly favorite for some who have attended previews months ago and soft openings the week after Thanksgiving.
Chmait offered San Juan Capistrano residents a free taste of the menu at “open kitchen” soft openings last week.
With father Bill Chmait’s 30-year restaurant experience and Omar’s marketing experience, the two found San Juan Capistrano to be the place to open their own Lebanese restaurant.
Although his family moved to California from Lebanon when Bill was a toddler, the Lebanese heritage has deep roots, creating an Americanized Lebanese, tight-knit family.
Bill Chmait bought his first restaurant, Melody Grill in Houston, Texas during his senior year at University of Houston. Eleven months later, he opened a restaurant called Saab’s Restaurant. Then he owned a deli called Tutti Fruitti in downtown Los Angeles, as well as a catering business called Dinner with Bill.
Retirement from the restaurant business left something missing for Bill Chmait, so when he suggested opening up a restaurant with his son, Omar Chmait thought, ‘OK, let’s do it.’
“He’s back to being productive; he enjoys contributing to the community,” Omar Chmait said.
The hookah lounge, reminiscent of the Middle Eastern pasttime, will light up the nightlife in the restaurant. The couches, opulent lamps and music give customers a laid back, causal elegance.
“This is what I love, making connections with people,” Omar Chmait said.
New Year's Eve, Lebanese Style
Many seats have already been requested for the night of dancing and spirits, and family-style dining.
“We’re going to drop down 19 different mezza, appetizers. Then kabobs with rice: filet minion, chicken taouk, beef kafta, lamb and grilled shrimp.
Chmait recommends trying something new from their appetizers, such as their famous spicy potato dish or freshly made stuffed grape leaves.
Lunch items falafel plate, grilled jumbo shrimp and others cost between $8 to $12.
Dinner items, such as Omar’s Special with lamb chops, grilled jumbo shrimp, and filet mignon, cost between $15 and $25.
The Mediterranean Grill is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Sunday. It also offers private party and catering options for special occasions.
“It’s very exciting. It’s a lot more work than I thought, but is much more fun than a desk job,” Omar Chmait said.