You can’t keep a good Zamaan down. Not when you’re Ali Hijazi. Lebanese food is his passion, being a good host is second nature, and running a restaurant is his way of winding down from a day job in real estate.
Hijazi’s restaurant roots go deep in Ann Arbor. Before he became a real estate agent eight years ago, he owned Shahrayar on Maynard for eleven years. Before that, he owned Bon Juice on East William for four. But Hijazi, fifty, says he knew it was time to close LaZamaan Cafe on South State a few years back when his son Hadi, who was ten at the time, suggested the family move into the basement of the restaurant so they could see more of him. “I just couldn’t believe what I heard,” Hijazi recalls. “So I said, this is it.”
Yet now Hijazi is back, with not one but two new places. He and two partners bought the old Zeidan’s Bakery & Cafe on Packard near Platt at the beginning of the year and changed the name to Zamaan Cafe and Bakery. In June, they opened Cafe Zamaan in the Plymouth Green Shopping Center.
What’s changed? “Now I have partners,” Hijazi says. One silent partner will remain in the background. The other is Sam Issa, forty-four, who used to cook for him at the old LaZamaan location. Hijazi says that Issa’s pretty much running the show during the day–Hijazi only stops by in the evenings to help out and to oversee the catering side of the business, which he says will be a big part of future growth.
Hijazi plans to open half a dozen Cafe Zamaans in the Ann Arbor area over the next few years, and the bakery on Packard is the linchpin of his plan. “We will be baking our bread over there fresh for all the locations,” he says. He says fresh baked bread is an important part of the Cafe Zamaan menu, which features a wide selection of wrapped sandwiches, and being able to bake the bread at a single location means he’ll need less square footage in the others, saving in rent.
Because the Packard location is dominated by the bakery, it seats only about a dozen people. Hijazi likens it to a sandwich shop–a place to duck in for a quick pita wrap as opposed to a sit-down dinner, which is what he will emphasize in the larger Cafe Zamaan.
The Plymouth Road spot seats thirty-five and serves a more elaborate menu. It specializes in hummus dishes, like muddamas (hummus topped with a mix of fava beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, onions, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil–usually called foul muddamas elsewhere) and makale (hummus topped with fried potato cubes, eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and lemon juice). The menu also includes a wide selection of pita sandwiches, including the “Zamaan chicken sandwich,” chicken shawarma with pine nuts, hummus, tomatoes, and pickles.
Hijazi says he’s already got a third location picked out and hopes to have it up and running within the next six months.
Cafe Zamaan, 3580 Plymouth (Plymouth Green Shopping Center). 213-3350. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Zamaan Cafe & Bakery, 3118 Packard. 677-1522. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Sun.