The Maroush restaurants chain is one of the largest, independent restaurant chain and most well-known Lebanese food outlets in London.
The Britshish Magazine spoke with Mr Marouf Abouzaki- the founder of Maroush, to find out his inspirational story.
A 15-year civil war that began in 1975 forced hundreds of thousands of people living in Lebanon, one of the most beautiful countries in the world, to emigrate.
A small number among them found a home in London, in the area between Edgware Road, Marylebone and Kensington that is often called “Little Beirut”. This part of the city has been a home to Arab and Middle Eastern cultures since the 1970s, including a modest Lebanese community.
One of those Lebanese youths who migrated to London went on to become one of his community’s milestones through the restaurants that showcased its cuisine and culture. Marouf Abouzaki began working in a Lebanese restaurant in London’s Sloane Street from 1975, and followed this with a restaurant called Maroush that he opened at 21 Edgware Road in 1981.
He picked the name because he thought it would be easier to pronounce than his own name. It also graced a restaurant that was once popular in Beirut.
Working long hours and with great patience, Abouzaki and his wife worked the kitchen themselves to produce traditional tastes and display their country’s well-established hospitality to create one of London’s must-visit businesses. At first the customer base was mostly made up of Lebanese and Arabs, but soon Britons who had visited the Middle Est and Lebanon began to seek his restaurant out. Then as now, the restaurant offers live music and dancers as entertainment, alongside fresh meze and food, grilled kebabs, generous portions — and, of course, who could forget the shawarma?
`YOU NEED PASSION FOR WHAT YOU DO`
In 1983, Abouzaki opened a Lebanese fast-food café on Edgware Road which he called Ranoush after his first daughter, Rana. Then followed his third business, which came in Knightsbridge.
Today, there are 16 businesses trading under seven different brands. In addition to the four that have become flagships on Edgware Road, they can be found in Kensington, Earl’s Court and Marble Arch.
Perhaps the most interesting is the 130-year-old building Crocker’s Folly in St John’s Wood, which is listed by English Heritage. Speaking to BritShish here, Abouzaki said he often complains of being responsible for quite so many outletrs. He said his top principle was the quality of food and service and that, like many food businesses, finding qualified staff was always an issue. He and his daughters pay attention to every detail of the businesses they run because food, he said, is their passion.
“You must feel the love and passion for a restaurant that you do for a woman. If you ignore it, do not pay it attention, or love it, then after a while the quality begins to deteriorate and you lose,” the experienced chef told us.
He said that he had avoided eating out in recent times and that one of his greatest disappointments in life was being served a bad meal. His advice to budding entrepreneurs wanting to operate in the food sector is for them to keep a close eye on the work.
Customer satisfaction is a very important principle and as important as a delicious meal, he said: “your customers’ happiness will bring you pride and the same quantity in money.”
LEBANESE AND MEDITERRANEAN FOOD PART OF BRITISH CUISINE
Abouzaki said British people were conservative in their food and eating habits which, he said, was why nearly all of his customers were from Lebanon or other Middle Eastern countries. He noted that British interest in his food rose as a trend developed for healthy eating and authentic Mediterranean cuisine.
And Maroush has a claim to fame with foods like humous, which are now seemingly ubiquitous in supermarkets and even traditional pubs around the country. Falafel, salads and traditional bakery products can all be found in the eateries connected to the Maroush group.
A new, large and modern facility is set to open in the Park Royal area that will increase the group’s capacity to produce food not just for its own restaurants, but for other partners too.
But what remains to fulfil of Abouzaki’s ambition after 45 years of energy and passion in this business? His answer: he wants to open a training school for new chefs to help cater for the growing demand for qualified people who can cook Lebanese and Mediterranean food. His new Park Royal facility will not just produce food for restaurants; it will be a base to train the chefs of the future.