In late 2019, Patricia and Tony Massoud took a hopeful leap and moved from Lebanon to and New Jersey with their three children. Five months later, in February 2020, they acquired Porch & Proper in Collingswood. Then the unexpected happened: A global pandemic hit, forcing them to close their brand new restaurant. What they didn’t know was the opportunity this would bring them.
When an explosion struck Beirut in August, the family was again affected, with the loss of loved ones back home. In a time of tragedy, the couple took the opportunity to rebrand their restaurant in honor of those they lost. Li Beirut was born, with a menu full of authentic Lebanese dishes that the couple grew up eating in their own homes.
“This [restaurant] made me feel the memory of my friends and is a way to show them support and respect,” said Patricia Massoud. “We are known for our hospitality, friendliness, generosity, and particularly our cuisine. This made me change the restaurant around.”
We caught up with Patricia Massoud to ask about her transition into a new Lebanese restaurant, the menu she created, and the meaning behind it.
Table Hopping: What is your background in the food industry?
Patricia Massoud: I was raised in a culinary family…in a restaurant my father used to have in Lebanon. I knew everything about the restaurant and the recipes. Before coming here I was studying with chef Antoine.
TH: What was it about Porch & Proper that made you want to buy it?
PM: After I moved here to the U.S., I was searching for something to do. I found Porch & Proper and I decided to buy it [after going] there for dinner. I loved the place, I loved the food there, I loved everything. I was going to open a restaurant but I wanted to do something new and modern with a touch of Mediterranean, not a Lebanese cuisine.
TH: Did you make any menu changes at Porch & Proper?
PM: I was happy to work and give a touch of Mediterranean. I was doing hummus and some things like that. After the pandemic, we stayed home for two months and I was thinking what to do with this place. I decided to change it. I said, “Why not open a Lebanese restaurant?” I’m a chef, I can cook, I can do everything.
TH: Have you always wanted to open a Lebanese restaurant?
PM: I was working on it during the pandemic and what made me do this even more is the bomb that hit Lebanon. It was painful to think about what happened to my beautiful Beirut in the explosion which tore all the homes and injured my beloved ones. I call it “Li Beirut” [To Beirut] because of the famous [Lebanese] singer Fayruz [known for her recording of it].
TH: That’s a beautiful thing you’re doing, continuing that tradition and doing it in memory of those people. Especially with food, which is something that brings people together.
PM: I wanted to do this in memory of my father and of my beloved ones. I lost my friend in this explosion. She used to come to my house every night. We used to cook together.
TH: How has it been doing since opening Li Beirut?
PM: I’m doing good! I want to start brunch next week or the week after. I want to introduce our manoushe. We make the za’atar and manoushe cheese.
TH: Are the recipes on your menu similar to what you grew up eating and saw in your father’s restaurant?
PM: Yes, it’s what we grew up eating. The grape leaves, the hummus, everything. My dad used to make shawarma so since I was little I knew this recipe. It’s all homemade. I know how to do it all because it runs in the family.
TH: Do you have a favorite dish on the menu?
PM: My favorite dish is the shawarma, it reminds me of my father. I know all the spices he used to give a good flavor. When I eat it, it reminds me of him. He used to put me next to him and teach me how to put the spices in, how he cleaned all the meat. When I do this every day it reminds me of him.
TH: What’s something you want people to experience when they come to Li Beirut?
PM: I want them to know about our food and the variations we have in our menu. Our food is so healthy, like the spices and the natural food used. Everything is healthy so that’s why I wanted to make this and introduce it to everybody. We offer them hospitality and generosity. We used to sit around the table and share dishes together, and we have small dishes to share to show everyone that.
Li Beirut is located at 619 West Collings Ave, Collingswood. Enjoy authentic Lebanese cuisine from a menu packed with delicious and healthy options. Read more about Tony and Patricia Massoud’s story online. Call 856-477-2105 or email [email protected] for more info.Click here to leave a comment