Fady Chamoun applies the values of servant leadership to everything he does. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a customer at one of his restaurants, an employee, or someone in the community who needs his support. Chamoun wants to do whatever he can to make your life a little better through your encounter with him.
“Fady is a born leader who truly cares,” says Jon J. Pinney, managing partner at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. “He cares deeply about his brand, his family and the community. He treats all of his employees like family. And he’s worked incredibly hard to get to where he is today. I think Fady is so successful because he provides a good product that people want and that people want to come back for.”
Chamoun is best known in Northeast Ohio for Aladdin’s Eatery, the American-Lebanese restaurant concept he and his wife, Sally, debuted in 1994. Aladdin’s has gained a sterling reputation across the region, but it’s not the only company, nor is it the only type of industry, in which Chamoun has found success.
He owns and manages property in Lakewood, and has his eye on additional properties to add to his real estate portfolio. He built a bakery business that was used to deliver fresh ingredients and bread to Aladdin’s, then helped Jasmine Distributing become a 50,000-sqare-foot warehouse with a state-of-the-art production line that produces more than 100,000 pitas each week for restaurants and markets across the region.
He’s a civic leader, an activist, a philanthropist, a board member and a 2004 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year winner, just to name a few of his accomplishments. As with any entrepreneur, money matters to Chamoun, and yet, it’s never been his top priority.
“Entrepreneurs don’t look for money first,” Chamoun says. “They look for success, and then the money comes along. Some people really succeed and they don’t make any money and they don’t care. Success is more important for entrepreneurs.”
Chamoun has earned plenty of both, carving out a niche as a man who, along with his sons, Fares and Paul, knows how to make things happen.
“He’s established a strong brand and created stability around that,” Pinney says. “What Fady has built will stay in his family for decades to come.”
Through it all, Chamoun has never forgotten where he came from.
A self-made man
Chamoun grew up in Lebanon, and by the age of 10, he was already forging a strong work ethic that would only grow when he left his native land. When Chamoun came to the U.S., he settled in Southeast Michigan and went to work for Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Ceasars Pizza.
“Mike Ilitch was the best entrepreneur to learn from,” Chamoun says. “When I was working for him, I couldn’t wait to get my own store. He said, ‘You Lebanese, you don’t like to work for anybody, you want to be on your own. But I would like it to be in the Little Caesars system with me, and you can own a store.’ So he co-signed for me on the first restaurant I bought, and that’s how it started in Dearborn, Michigan.”
Chamoun admired the accomplishments of Ilitch, who in addition to Little Ceasars, owned the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings, and who played a key role in driving the economic revitalization of Detroit. When Ilitch died in 2017, he was one of the 400 wealthiest people in the world and a pioneer in what is now a $51 billion industry in North America.
“He appreciated his employees, and he appreciated his customers,” Chamoun says. “There was no fear for the gamble of trying to make it in business. When we first started, there was no pizza business. But he believed pizza was going to be the food of this country.”
Chamoun initially used his job at Little Ceasars to help pay for his education at the University of Michigan, then stayed with the company for more than two decades, purchasing and running 40 Little Ceasars franchises. But Ilitch was right. Chamoun had a strong internal drive to branch out in pursuit of his own restaurant empire.
“It was 1990 and we were eating at home, and we would have our neighbors, our friends and friends of our kids over all the time,” Chamoun says. “We would put Lebanese food on the table and everybody loved it. I thought, ‘Boy, that’s going to be the next big thing.”
Do it the right way
Chamoun decided to liquidate his pizza franchises, walking away with $10,000 after paying off all his debts and loans, and set off on his new course. After more than a year of searching, he came across Rankin’s Deli on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood.
Rankin’s was owned and operated by John Poulos, who was looking to sell. Poulos wanted $70,000 for the deli, which was $60,000 more than Chamoun had. But he accepted a $10,000 down payment and monthly installments.
It was 1994, and Aladdin’s Eatery was born.
“Nobody thought I would make it, but it was a lot of fun,” Chamoun says. “Back then, they had sections for smoking and nonsmoking. I came in and did no smoking. In the pizza business, you discount your menu to bring in the customers. I wanted to do it differently. My goal is to give full service, a good clean restaurant and quality food.”
Chamoun’s restaurant group, Seasoned Brands LLC, includes 41 restaurants in four states. In addition to Aladdin’s, the company of more than 1,000 employees includes two fast casual Lebanese restaurants named Sittoo’s, two upscale Lebanese restaurants named Taza—A Lebanese Grill, and three farm-to-table restaurants — The Oak Barrel, Forage Public House and BOLD Food & Drink. The latest addition to the Chamoun enterprise is Boaz Café, which opened its first location in Ohio City and is eyeing a second site in Shaker Heights. It all contributes to a 15 percent growth rate for the company each year.
Chamoun, who is the company’s CEO, takes the same approach with each location, using his leadership to create a great experience for customers and an enviable opportunity to grow and develop for his employees.
“People have really caught on, and it’s unbelievable, the feeling and the emotions, to see how it’s grown into such a large company now,” says Fares Chamoun, Fady’s son and president at Seasoned Brands. “It makes me really proud of my dad and Sally (Fady’s wife), really excited and lucky to be able to work with them every day.”
Fady Chamoun has a very keen eye for business opportunities that enables him to effectively roll out new concepts, Pinney says.
“I have had the pleasure of representing Fady for nearly 12 years,” Pinney says. “I’ve worked with him on retail leasing for multiple restaurant brands, as well as corporate-level financing and all corporate-level legal work and franchising. He’s not afraid to take risks and is always looking for ways to expand, whether through new brands or location.”
Chamoun is a long-time client of Hillcrest Foods, a Cleveland-based food distributor.
“Fady has built a world-class organization. His systems and processes are the best in the industry,” says Hillcrest Foods President David Marzich. “He has been loyal to the Abraham family for 30-plus years. Our company is committed to supporting Aladdin’s in any request Fady may have. We have grown together over the years and have always helped each other.”
Never stop improving
When it comes to hiring new talent, Chamoun takes a grassroots approach.
“The best people are working for somebody,” Chamoun says. “I don’t steal people from wherever. We hire the kids out of high school and college and start them with us and take good care of them. We see what their needs are and satisfy those needs. If somebody wants to come in and stay a server all their life, they’re welcome to do that. We’re going to help them be really good. But if somebody wants to come in and become an entrepreneur, we also help them become an entrepreneur.”
Outside of the restaurant industry, Chamoun is a strong advocate of a good education. He and his wife actively support JumpStart, which supplies services and investment capital to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses. He is also president of Holy Spirit University Foundation, an American nonprofit organization formed to support, promote and benefit Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon.
“I love the U.S.A., and I would not trade it for anything,” Chamoun says. “What I want to do is try to help our country where we came from to improve themselves because you see how good things here can be. You try to help over there, help people have a better life. So we pass it on, pass on our experiences. God gave me a good life. I want to pass it on and help others. I want to do whatever I can to help. We don’t have billions, but we can do things personally and give a little bit.”
Chamoun also supports the Saint Ignatius High School community, from which his sons graduated, and is very active in his church, St. Maron Parish in Cleveland.
“Fady also does a lot for the American Task Force for Lebanon,” Pinney says. “But I think what really stands out is all the things he does for the community that you don’t hear about — the food he donates, the struggling businesses he’s invested in. Fady is just a good person. If I need anything, he’s there.”
Chamoun “has an incredible ability to provide an experience as if he was in their shoes,” says Robert L. Katitus, who has represented Chamoun as his business and personal banker at Civista Bank. “This not only is applicable to his customers, but his vendor partners and of course his banking relationship. By being long-term minded in his decision-making, by being honest and trustworthy, it makes doing business with him a win-win scenario.”
Paul Chamoun serves as vice president at Seasoned Brands and remains proud to be part of the legacy his father has created.
“There’s a ton of American families that pass their businesses along to their children, and it’s a blessing because there’s so much stress that goes into young professionals finding jobs these days,” he says. “The fact that we’ve been able to build on this together has given me confidence in my own future.”
It’s all in a day’s work for Fady Chamoun.
“I know we work hard in this world,” Chamoun says. “In this country, we work really hard, and sometimes we just can’t wait to sit in front of the TV and relax a little bit. But when you keep moving and keep exercising, when you eat healthy and take care of yourself, when you do preventive things to keep moving, it’s saving a lot of us from going to the hospital and having to deal with that.”
The Chamoun File
NAME: Fady Chamoun
COMPANY: Seasoned Brands LLC
Building a culinary empire
Seasoned Brands includes 41 restaurants in four states:
Aladdin’s Eatery, with 32 locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and North Carolina. In Lebanese cuisine, fresh ingredients are enhanced with herbs and spices rather than heavy sauces — most commonly mint, parsley, oregano, garlic, nutmeg and cinnamon. Adhering to this type of Mediterranean diet has been proven to reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and increase longevity. Many more benefits are being discovered every day.
Taza has locations in Downtown Cleveland and Woodmere. Taza offers a wide selection of vegetarian, fish and meat lover appetizers and entrees inspired by traditional home-cooked meals. Bread is baked in Taza’s imported Lebanese stone oven, and shish entrees are cooked over the restaurant’s charcoal grill.
The Oak Barrel in Valley View, Forage Public House in Lakewood and Bold Food & Drink in Cleveland are farm-to-table concepts.
Sittoo’s has locations in Parma, North Olmsted and at Playhouse Square. Sittoo’s is billed as “Grandma’s traditional Lebanese recipes prepared with the finest-quality ingredients.”
Boaz Café has a location in Ohio City, offering dishes “seasoned and spiced with the unique traditional flavors of the Mediterranean — sumac, za’atar, lemon, garlic and sesame.”
Jasmine Distributing. Founded by Chamoun in 1997, it was originally a facility used to deliver fresh ingredients and bread to Aladdin’s restaurants, eliminating the need to make long drives to find products that fit the restaurant’s high standards.
Chamoun on living in Cleveland: I’m happy we came to Cleveland. We would never leave it. We came in, two people from Detroit, Michigan, and now we’re about 200 family members, including 10 grandchildren. Everybody came in and lived here, and now we have a big family. I’d like to see Cleveland think more business-friendly, like downtown needs to be updated to be a place where it’s a lot better for the kids to stay here and become entrepreneurs. We have some of the top companies in this area, so we need to keep the kids here somehow. The city of Cleveland should be more business-friendly.