Photos by Sydney Cromwell.
Chicken shawarma, tabbouli and a pitcher of Cedar’s Cocktail.
Under the soaring archways of Cedar’s Grille, Lebanese music and the savory smell of kebabs intermingle. The atmosphere at Cedar’s is as integral to the experience as the food, and that’s just the way owner Ghassan “Gus” Dib designed it.
Dib has about 30 years of experience as an executive chef and has owned restaurants in Montgomery, but he always wanted to open a restaurant in his hometown. When building leases turned out to be too expensive, Dib decided to design and build one instead.
The resulting high ceilings, columns and decor at Cedar’s match the Lebanese, Greek and Mediterranean flavor of the food. The restaurant’s name is inspired by the Lebanon cedar, which is on the Lebanese flag and has centuries of cultural and religious significance. Dib developed the menu during his travels around the world and time spent in his mother’s kitchen. Cedar’s menu includes kebabs, seafood and wraps along with appetizers like falafel, hummus and baba ghanoush.
“It’s unique and it’s something different from everybody else,” Dib said. “And it’s really good.”
Lebanese and Mediterranean foods are defined by their strong flavors, but Dib said he has seen a growth in customers looking for an exotic dining experience. His customer base has grown almost entirely through word of mouth, and he has seen several first-time visitors return with friends in tow.
“It’s the ongoing thing today in the United States,” Dib said. “I see more people like flavored food and the spices. Everybody’s glad that we are here and enjoying it.”
Cedar’s opened in July, and Dib said the biggest challenge was training his staff to create the complicated dishes he serves, many of which are cooked on a wood-fired grill. Dib estimated that he weeded through about 100 potential cooks in the process of hiring chefs who were up to the task.
Seeing customers savoring Cedar’s food, however, makes the long hours and hard work of owning a restaurant worth it.
“I enjoy asking the people how they like the food,” Dib said. “To see that everybody’s happy, enjoying the atmosphere, enjoying the food and the service – that’s what I enjoy.”
Dib plans to expand his menu, especially the seafood choices, and continue introducing clients to the tastes of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Dib is growing his new restaurant one day – and one meal – at a time. His goals for Cedar’s: “I’m hoping to have a great lunch, pack it and then go on to a great dinner.”