Restaurateur Ali Kobeissi brought Lebanon with him to Long Beach when he opened Open Sesame in Belmont Shore. Now, he’s celebrating 15 years in business.
“I don’t give out my recipes,” Kobeissi, 46, said. “They are all personal, from my family with my own little flavor. … And, I import spices from the spice factory where I worked when I was 15 years old; it was a block away from my family’s home, and my old boss still works there. I have a lot of memories there.”
Besides importing spices, Kobeissi also imports pickles and oils so that the dishes are as authentic as possible. The food is made from scratch, fresh and the popularity of Open Sesame, he said, has created an awareness in Long Beach about Lebanese food.
“We’ve had a lot of restaurants open on Second Street since I opened, and I take that as a compliment — it’s flattering,” he said. “This was really one of the first, authentic specialized kitchens in Belmont Shore. I think Open Sesame helped people see the potential on the street and created a buzz.”
Kobeissi lives in Belmont Shore and walks to work each day, a routine that gives him a unique perspective on what the neighborhood wants from its restaurants. That’s part of what he believes has kept Open Sesame relevant.
“Ninety percent of our customers are regulars, some eat here twice a day,” he said. “We know their names and their family’s names. It’s a part of their life and part of their diet. … I love it when I hear that Open Sesame is someone’s favorite restaurant.”
Although Open Sesame has expanded twice since it opened, now occupying several storefronts on the north side of Second Street near Corona Avenue, there often are people waiting in line for a table during peak hours.
That popularity is part of the reason why Kobeissi opened another Open Sesame restaurant in October 2013 in West Hollywood. He said that restaurant, which shares the same menu and aromatic spices, has been performing well too. The most popular dish at both locations is the Tawook (or chicken kabob).
“We have the right combination of food and price point and atmosphere,” he said, adding that many of the Shore restaurants’ 100 employees have been with the company for many years now and are part of what makes it all a success.
The restaurant owner himself continues to take annual trips back to Lebanon whenever possible. He left the country to escape war, but said his parents and siblings are still there and stay in touch through social media and the Internet.
When his mother visited from Lebanon for the first time, she saw the restaurant and was at a loss for words: “She looked at me and kissed me. My family is happy and proud.”
A true family business, Kobeissi’s three children are involved as well.
In celebration of Open Sesame’s 15 years in business, Kobeissi said there might be some special promotions during the month of July. He said guests should visit www.opensesamegrill.com or the restaurant’s Facebook page for details.