Owner, Phoenicia Restaurant in Birmingham
— Interviewed by Matthew Totsky
— Photographed by Jerry Zolynsky
Meet Birmingham resident and restaurant owner Samy Eid. Along with his family, Eid serves up gourmet Middle Eastern fare at Phoenicia in Birmingham’s South Old Woodward district.
“I started working here when I was 9,” Eid says. “I was helping my family, mostly watching the parking lot. When I was 15, my parents let me have more responsibility, and they basically taught me everything I know. I bussed tables, washed dishes and waited tables. They even taught me how to cook. They made me learn every position and, to me, that kind of knowledge is an essential part of running a restaurant. It’s much easier to ask people to do things if you’ve done them yourself. That philosophy has been my greatest asset since I took over the restaurant full time.”
Phoenicia has always been a family business. Eid’s parents, Sameer and Leila, opened their doors in 1971. And while Eid began working there at an early age, he didn’t start full time until after obtaining a political science degree from the University of Michigan.
“I thought I wanted to be a lawyer,” Eid says. “But after college, I decided to take a shot at making Phoenicia grow and taking it to the next level. The experience has exceeded my expectations.”
Industry changes: One thing that’s unique to our market is the sheer amount of options for our customers. There’s a lot of competition, and it forces you to be on your game at all times. It leads to better concepts for restaurants and better-run operations. Liquor licenses have doubled since we started, and that makes for a vibrant restaurant scene.
Professionally speaking: I’m a firm believer about acknowledging my mistakes and learning from them. My goal is to ensure that every one of our guests leaves Phoenicia happy every time. If something goes wrong, I’ll address it and make sure it never happens again. Having a strong staff that cares and wants to grow the business is another great way to succeed. Our staff is very loyal — some of them have worked here for more than 25 years. We recently had a chef retire after 35 years. She was a great resource for training the rest of our staff, and she made sure the kitchen was in good hands when she stepped down.
Proudest career accomplishment: The way Phoenicia has grown since I took over. We completely renovated our space three years ago. It was always a fine-dining establishment, but it used to have a 1970s design and was starting to feel dated. We opened up the front and let in more natural light. These subtle changes have led to an increase in business, especially for our lunchtime crowd.
Career thoughts: I want to keep growing and open a few more restaurants, without ever losing sight of Phoenicia. The experience I’ve had here will help with the next chapter in my career. We’re opening a new restaurant — Forest Grill — in late October. It will have a contemporary menu and a different feel and atmosphere, but the same commitment to quality that customers have come to expect from Phoenicia.
Passion for: No surprises here — I enjoy dining out! I like to experience different restaurants and learn from what they’re doing. For example, dining in Detroit right now is fun, fresh and exciting. There are so many new concepts popping up Downtown, and it’s cool to watch it happen.
Life in Birmingham: I love it here and never want to leave. I grew up on the border of Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham, and it’s a great place to live. This area has treated my family well. I have a lot of friends that visit from out of town and overseas, and they have nothing but good things to say about the area. They love how quaint and accessible it is.
Favorite place to hang out: Big Rock Chophouse and Griffin Claw Brewing Company are two favorites because they’re close to my house. In Birmingham, Tallulah serves continental cuisine, and they do a great job. Bistro 82 in Royal Oak has a great atmosphere, amazing food and a strong beverage program. Selden Standard in Detroit is just ridiculously good. Everyone who eats there loves that place. And finally, I enjoy Clubhouse BFD in Rochester because they have a huge beer selection. It’s amazing.
My perfect day: It starts with waking up early. I’m more productive in the morning, and if I sleep in, I feel like I’m missing something. On Saturdays, my wife, Taren, and I like to go to Eastern Market and have lunch at Roma Cafe and people watch and buy fresh produce. Eastern Market is a gem in the city that a lot of people — especially in the suburbs — are blind to. It’s one of the best — if not the best — outdoor markets in America.
What most people don’t know about me: I’m addicted to watching golf, but I never have time to play it. If I get to play once year, I’m lucky. I was invited to go to the Master’s one year, but I couldn’t make it because I had to work. I could be disappointed about that, but it just goes with the territory. Phoenicia always comes first! NS
Phoenicia Restaurant, 588 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham, MI, 48009. phoneciabirmingham.com, (248) 644-3122.