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Meet Jalal Chanaa of Terra Mediterranean

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jalal Chanaa.

Jalal, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My brother, Adam, and I grew up in Lebanon but both left in 1989 to come to the U.S. to attend college. When we got to Dallas, I got a job in a local restaurant as a dishwasher but within a few short months Adam and I opened the first Ali Baba restaurant on Lower Greenville in a small, hole-in-the wall location. One of us would go to the Farmers Market in the morning to get all the fresh produce we would need for the day, while the other stayed at the restaurant to prepare the food. Our menu was created from family recipes, so the restaurant was a family effort. Our little establishment quickly became a favorite to many in the East Dallas area and soon we had a line out the door and down the street. Our goal was to serve authentic Lebanese food to as many people as we could throughout Dallas, but we were limited by our space. We kept the quality of our food high and slowly increased our reach throughout the Dallas area. Over the next twenty years we added two locations in Dallas and moved around a bit to bigger and better spaces. We also opened an Ali Baba in Monterey, Mexico, which is still there today. In 2009, we were approached and had the opportunity to expand our Dallas traditions to Fort Worth with a new concept, Terra Mediterranean. We kept the practice of carefully prepared, fresh, and delicious meals and paired it with a new stylish décor and name. Terra Mediterranean at West 7th was an instant success in bringing a new type of cuisine to the Fort Worth area, because there was nothing like it in Fort Worth at the time. We opened Terra Mediterranean in 2010 and exceeded any and all expectations we had. Opening in Fort Worth with a new brand was a huge risk for Adam and I, but boy has it paid off. There was such great response to this new concept that we converted Ali Baba in Irving to Terra Mediterranean in 2013. Terra in Fort Worth has been open for a little over seven years now and has really put us on the map. We’ve learned a lot in the last 28 years about what works in the restaurant industry and what doesn’t, and we’ve learned from our mistakes. We feel like we are at the point where we can really grow our reach first throughout DFW, and eventually throughout Texas. Our new location in Plano at The Shops at Willow Bend will open later this year and is our first step in that direction.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I would say the biggest struggle for me has just been the number of hours you work. Some days I’m working 18 hours a day. I’m a very hands-on person, especially in the kitchen so I am very aware of everything that is going on and want everything to be perfect. When we opened Fort Worth I was there every day, most of the time from open to close, for the first 2 years.

It’s also always been hard to be able to step away for a real vacation with my family. It’s just been in the last couple years that we’ve been in a place where I have been able to take a vacation, although I still worry about what’s going on at the restaurants when I’m gone. Finding great employees can also be a struggle. We’ve had our struggles this past year with finding qualified line cooks, dishwashers, and serving staff. We’ve developed a great management team the last several years that will really be key in helping us as we expand and open new locations.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Terra Mediterranean (and Ali Baba) is known for classic & authentic dishes featuring staples of the Mediterranean diet. We pride ourselves on using the highest quality ingredients we get our hands on. We use fresh fruits & vegetables, quality meats & seafood, and authentic international ingredients that give our food flavors others can’t possibly imitate. Our recipes were developed from old family recipes, and have been the same recipes we’ve used since the days down on Lower Greenville in Dallas in 1989. We’ve always been big on quality and freshness. I work directly with a few distributors to find the exact products I want. Just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean it’s better. Quality ingredients are the first step in making a quality product. Terra has become a well-known place to grab a quick, fast, & fresh lunch with our lunch buffet. Our buffet allows our guests to eat on the own timeframe, which has become extremely important for the fast-paced work environment so many people have these days. Our lunch buffet features over 35 different items. You will find items like hummus, baba ghanouj, ziziki sauce, Greek salad, Mediterranean salad, tabouli, saffron rice, roasted vegetables, zattar bread, chicken kabobs, gyro, saffron chicken, and many other items. I really hate using the word buffet sometimes because I think it gives off the wrong impression. We serve so many people each and every day that we turn over the food on the buffet so often. It’s almost like to food goes straight from the grill, to the buffet pan, to your plate. We are always constantly refilling each item that the food doesn’t have time to sit in the pans for too long.

In the evenings, we offer a full-service menu that makes us a wonderful place to enjoy a glass of wine over dinner with family & friends. Our dinner menu features most of the items on our lunch buffet in addition to specialty appetizers such as kibbie naya, crispy calamari, and hummus with lamb & pine nuts. We also offer a few higher end entrees such as lamb chops, oven-roasted trout, and grilled sea bass served with sautéed spinach and saffron rice. Some guests like to sample a little of everything and order tapas-style for the table to share. We offer a full service bar that features wines from all around the world, including wines from Lebanon. Our cocktails feature fresh herbs, fresh fruits, and fresh squeezed juices. We also offer an assortment of beers including all your typical well-known beers, local craft beers, and a Lebanese beer, Almaza.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The food industry in general is headed towards being more health-conscious and promoting a healthy lifestyle. There have been a ton of studies and articles written about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle in the last five years. It’s all about eating real foods and limiting processed foods. The Mediterranean diet focuses on healthy fats, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein options such as fish and poultry, and occasionally red meats. We’ve got all of that! We are truly a place that you can come multiple times a week and enjoy fresh and healthy options that don’t lack in flavor. As I already mentioned, it’s been harder and harder to find quality candidates in the workforce, and I think it’s only going to get more difficult in the next couple years.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 2973 Crockett St, Fort Worth, TX 76107
    5910 N MacArthur Blvd #121, Irving, TX 75039
    Coming Fall 2017 – The Shops at Willow Bend in Plano
    2405 Dallas Parkway, Suite RS-1 Plano, TX 75093
  • Website: www.terramediterranean.com
  • Phone: 817.744.7485 (Fort Worth)
    (972) 401-3900 (Irving)
  • Email: info@terramediterranean.com


Image Credit:
Keven Marple
Thomas Garza
Terra Med

Getting in touch: VoyageDallas is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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