“It kind of fell in our lap,” said Rashad Moughrabi, chef at the Palestinian restaurant, which will move to 1164 E. 55th St. close to the University of Chicago campus in May.
Moughrabi said the 1611 E. 55th St. location needs an overhaul and a new floor and he was shopping around for a new space on East 53rd Street when he heard about the former dialysis center.
“We’ve actually lost a lot of foot traffic over here, a lot of it has moved over to 53rd Street,” Moughrabi said.
He said he couldn’t afford the rents on East 53rd Street, which has been a hotspot for real estate investment by the University of Chicago over the last five years. The new spot made sense, according to Moughrabi, because it puts the restaurant closer to the university lunch crowd and adds 400 square feet inside and an outdoor patio.
“As long as we’re in Hyde Park, I think we’re going to be fine,” he said.
Moughrabi’s father, Abed, opened the restaurant 22 years ago in Hyde Park, but he has handed over the restaurant's reins to his son.
“He’s at a point where he need to take days off,” Rashad Moughrabi said, adding that he’s working with his father and his father’s cousin to expand the menu for the new location.
He’s already trying out a maklouba, a mixture of meat, eggplant and rice steamed in a savory broth before being flipped onto a plate. The dish is on the new menu — currently in its early stages as Moughrabi fine tunes the spices in an effort to recreate the flavors of his childhood.
Moughrabi’s family is full of chefs, including his father and his father’s cousin in Hyde Park and three uncles in the Middle East. He’s getting a lot of input because the flavor and balance of the spices have to be just right.
“There’s the final step where the flavor comes and that’s from them, the flavor of us,” Moughrabi said.
Moughrabi is no neophyte having worked in his father’s restaurant since he was 11 years old.
“This was my baby sitter as a child,” he said, adding that he enjoys the independence the work affords him. “It’s a lot of work, but I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do — even my dad.”
The new location is expected to open in May.