The perfect balance of exotic, traditional and familiar.
If you ask Mohamad Fakih to explain how he became a success in the food-service industry, he’ll tell you it was because of luck and timing. He’s much too humble.
While circumstances have played a role in his success, recognizing opportunity and knowing how to expand on it have been the main ingredients in creating his emerging restaurant chain.
Paramount Fine Foods began as one restaurant on Crestlawn Drive (at Dixie and Eglinton) and has since expanded across Southern Ontario into six restaurants, the Paramount Butcher Shop (also in Mississauga) and a food truck called Yalla Paramount, employing 500 people in total. A second Mississauga restaurant location recently opened near Erin Mills Town Centre, and there will be two expansions at Pearson Airport in 2014, one in Terminal 1 and the other in Terminal 3.
Offering Middle Eastern cuisine with a specific Lebanese flair, Paramount has pushed its varied menu into the mainstream of dining without sacrificing any of the nuances that make it unique.
Fakih believes his restaurants have the right balance of the exotic, the traditional and the familiar, which makes it appealing to those looking for a variety of tastes.
“But that didn’t come easy,” Fakih explains. “There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of changes were made. But we listen to our customers, we take their feedback to heart, and we’ve come up with a menu that really does aim to please.”
From dishes with exotic names such as arayess, kafta and shish tawouk, at Paramount you will find these items served alongside burgers and char-grilled chicken. There is also manakeesh, an Arabic-style pizza with wide variety of flavour-filled toppings.
Fakih says he goes to great lengths to bring authentic flavour to the tables of his customers, and to that end, he regularly brings in chefs from Arabic countries to assist and train his staff here. He says that by doing so, his restaurants can keep up with all of the latest trends and delicacies of the Middle East.
Fakih also says fresh and natural ingredients play a large role in his restaurants, as all of the meats are free of steroids, hormones, pesticides and sodium nitrates, are grass-fed and certified halal. Pita bread comes straight from their own wood-burning ovens, meats are charcoal barbecued and vegetables arrive fresh daily.
As a cosmopolitan city, Fakih says the people of Mississauga have always embraced new things and as such, they have always been willing to try new dining experiences. While acknowledging that Middle Eastern cuisine is not new to this area, he believes what customers will find at Paramount Fine Foods is a restaurant of atmosphere, one that reflects the experience of a souk (or market); the kind you would find in a small Arabic town. The mood is relaxed, the music is traditional, the setting is comfortable and the food is out of this world.
One particular item introduced recently at Paramount is the Kadri Sandwich, named for Toronto Maple Leaf star (and brand ambassador for Paramount) Nazem Kadri. The teaming of Kadri with Paramount is a natural one: like Fakih, Kadri’s family background is Lebanese, although both have their roots firmly planted in Canada.
The Kadri Sandwich is a barbecued chicken skewer wrap with cheese, garlic paste and a few of Kadri’s other favourite ingredients. A current promotion will see a donation of 10 percent of all Kadri Sandwich purchases given to SickKids Foundation—and you could win a dinner for six with Kadri by buying one.
Fakih believes initiatives such as these show how easily different cultures can adapt and grow along with the Canadian lifestyle.
“What can be more Canadian than hockey and great food?” asks Fakih.