From Beirut to New Jersey, Food Cooked With Love
Not many true, family-owned restaurants exist anymore. Nestled between a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream store and a CVS in Englewood, N.J., Bennie’s is an independently owned and operated Lebanese restaurant that customers say is a local gem.
Bennie’s original owner Bennie Hamade brought his entire family over to the United States in 1978 when the Civil War escalated in Lebanon, after he had been living alone in the United States for a decade.
The Hamades built the largest empire of Lebanese restaurants in New York City, until high rents forced the family to move its business to the other side of the Hudson.
Today, Bennie’s grandson Addy Hamade owns and operates the one remaining location of Bennie’s restaurant, in Englewood, NJ.
Besides the food that the primarily Jewish and Asian American neighborhood knows and loves, Bennie’s is also praised for attentive service.
“I go to Bennie’s all the time because it’s consistently delicious, healthy food and I always feel welcomed and comfortable — either to sit and do work of have a good conversation with the staff or other regulars. Addy treats everyone who comes in like family,” said 27-year-old Molly Lane, an Englewood resident and Bennie’s regular.
Hamade cooks his traditional family recipes, which are Middle Eastern staples with unique family twists that include special spices.
According to the staff, Hamade treats his employees like family, as well.
“He’s like a friend of mine and a mentor,” says 22-year-old head waitress Kadie Bryan. “He’s very casual, very laid back and also just a great, business owner and person altogether. It’s amazing to work with him. He makes you feel like you belong here, you’re comfortable, and if you ever need to talk to him about anything you don’t have to worry.”
Hamade’s lively personality creates a welcoming atmosphere that keeps people coming back year after year. He says that he’s watched his customers’ kids grow, knows what they like to order, and isn’t afraid to make the dining experience special for each person. Even though another Lebanese restaurant has opened across the street in this quiet New Jersey suburb, Hamade isn’t afraid of the competition.
“We’ve got more flavorful food, but most importantly, we’ve got customer loyalty.”
This piece was part of a multimedia project on food and immigration, conducted as a joint venture between several Reporting class sections at the Columbia Journalism School.