by Ted Zep
The story of Tony and George Kanaan is the story of Akron itself. The 28-year old twin brothers are the owners and operators of Tabouleh Lebanese Grill, which resides just within the confines of The University of Akron footprint.
I recently spoke with Tony about the early days of the establishment.
Born and raised in Akron, Tony and George grew up in Wallhaven and attended Firestone High School. Starting at a young age, the boys worked at a number of restaurants.
“Pizza, fast food, you name it, we worked it,” says Tony. “Working all those jobs, we learned what we liked and didn’t like about restaurants.”
For years, the duo tossed around the idea of opening their own place. In December of 2014, with 10 years of foodservice experience under their belts, they decided to take the plunge.
“If my brother and I talk about an idea we like, we go for it,” says Tony.
And go for it they did. By February of 2015, a mere three months after their talk, Tabouleh was open for business.
Using the “fast casual” model as a blueprint, the brothers constructed a menu based on the traditional Lebanese recipes of their mother. Though they consulted her and their aunt for advice, they ultimately made the final calls.
“It’s one thing to cook at home” says Tony. “We wanted to be able to guarantee freshness and fast service to our customers. We knew we wanted to be able to prepare things in under 10 minutes.”
The menu reflects this objective by featuring a generous selection of healthy rice plates and tantalizing sandwiches.
When picking a location, Tony says they wanted to be within striking distance of hungry downtown lunch crowds. They also wanted to serve the UA student market, so the Brown Street location has proven to be fortuitous.
“This space is perfect for us,” says Tony.
Tony remembers the first year of being in business as a learning experience. Despite holding a Bachelor of Arts in Business & Organizational Communication and a minor in finance, the company’s rookie year provided unexpected challenges.
“You just don’t know what something is going to be like until you do it,” says Tony.
They spent much of 2015 fine-tuning their menu and coordinating a marketing strategy. Local business people and adventurous college students were the first to support the eatery.
As fans of the restaurant developed, Tony and George made certain to keep the quality of the product high, yet still reasonably priced.
“We try to buy almost everything from local distributors,” says Tony. “We go and open up crates to personally pick what vegetables we buy.”
That care and attention to detail is reflected in the food. From the stellar Shish Tawook (chicken) to the Falafel and Shawarma (steak), the brothers’ fare is something to be experienced.
“We’re able to be as creative as we want,” says Tony.
So what’s next for Tony and George?
“Expansion,” says Tony with a twinkle in his eyes.
“And we want to keep it healthy,” he continues. “We want to be the first non-GMO Lebanese restaurant in the United States. There are none. We will be the first.”
Those are big goals for two boys from Akron who just like to fill peoples’ bellies and make them happy.
Tabouleh Lebanese Grill is located at 396 Brown St. The store hours are Monday – Friday 11 am to 4 pm. More information can be found at EatTabouleh.com.