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Beloved Forest Hills Lebanese Restaurant Closes After 5 Years

 Wafa Chami and her son Joe Salameh decided to close their Lebanese restaurant in Forest Hills.
Wafa Chami and her son Joe Salameh decided to close their Lebanese restaurant in Forest Hills.
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DNAinfo.com/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — Wafa’s, a beloved Forest Hills restaurant, which has served Lebanese favorites like tabouleh, shish tawook and kibbe for more than 5 years, closed over the weekend and will soon be replaced by a vegan eatery, the owners said.

The owners said the decision to close was a combination of several factors. Their lease recently expired and the new one would involve a rent increase, they said. But they also decided to relocate to Newport Beach, Calif. 

“We just wanted a change,” said Joe Salameh who owned the restaurant with his mother, Wafa Chami. “It’s bittersweet, we appreciate all the outpouring of love and support from the community but people also knew how hard we worked, especially my mother.”

The restaurant, at 100-05 Metropolitan Ave., earned numerous enthusiastic reviews, including in Michelin guides.

“One cannot know the sheer joy and passion that goes into homemade Lebanese food without a visit to Wafa,” Michelin wrote. "The smiling owner, Wafa Chami, runs the kitchen and her falafel still ranks among the best in town ..." 

Chami, 57, who immigrated to the U.S. in the '70s, used her own unique recipes, which she said she had learned from her mother and grandmother while growing up in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Closing the restaurant, she said, was a tough choice. 

“I’m going to miss all my customers,” she said fighting back tears. 

"But I worked day and night,” she added. "I'm tired."

Salameh said he was planning to open a take-out restaurant in California, which would require less efforts than a sit-down eatery. His mother would help, but would not be involved full-time, they said.

The Forest Hills restaurant will be replaced by a kosher vegan restaurant, which will keep some of the Wafa’s recipes. “They will have 'Wafa’s corner' on their menu,” Salameh said.

The new owners could not immediately be reached for comment.

Chami and her family first started their business in 2008, initially as a take-out place on the corner of 72nd and Metropolitan avenues. They closed it in Dec. 2010 to open their sit-down restaurant in Feb.  2011.

Longtime Wafa's customers said they were disappointed that the restaurant closed. 

“Very sad news for Forest Hills,” said Michele Dore, a Forest Hills resident and co-admin of the Queens NY Businesses and Events Facebook group. “[Wafa's] was loved by our residents and will be dearly missed.”

Fattoush salad at Wafa's. (DNAinfo.com/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska)