Alumni teams up with restaurant owner to revamp struggling business with new look but same menu
It was a dimly lit restaurant, encircled with heavy curtains and an aloof air, but for former city council member and alumni Amir Omar, Dean’s Restaurant showed great promise.
Omar said the food at Dean’s, a Persian locale in Richardson owned by chef Dean Budri, was phenomenal, consistent and even slightly nostalgic as it brought back delightful memories of his mother’s cooking.
Slowly, yet inevitably, the restaurant became second to his home. However, around last December, Omar started noticing something was missing.
“I thought what I could bring to the table was the ability to help market the place to where it was more inviting,” Omar said. “And with Dean’s food and recipes, I felt confident that the more people tried the food, the more they would like it.”
Using his business perspective, Omar started to discuss ways to enhance the overall look and feel of the restaurant with Budri.
Budri agreed, and with that, the two entered a partnership.
Over a period of about four weeks, Dean’s Restaurant transformed into Kabobi Fresh Mediterranean.
Because it was an existing restaurant, Omar dedicated his time to renovating the space into a more social atmosphere every Monday night, when Dean’s Restaurant was closed.
“Every Monday night, we’d take a step towards the new concept,” Omar said.
By the end of the renovation, the dark walls were replaced with vibrant shades of green and white. The curtains made way to open sunlight streaming through the wide, rectangular windows, and a restaurant that was once masked from the outside world became pleasantly approachable.
Omar said an important factor in remodeling was receiving customer input.
“It was a combination of sitting down with existing clients and asking them ‘what do you think about this place? If you were to change anything what would you change?’ and then understanding the reason why they wanted to change something,” Omar said.
Often, he found that because regular customers were so pleased with the food, they didn’t have a suggestion to change anything at first.
He also invited his friends to lunch for additional input. They were people with completely fresh eyes who had never set foot in the restaurant. Omar said their lack of history with the place allowed them to have the biggest amounts of input.
Getting a general consensus was how he had always completed his duties in politics, Omar said.
“In politics, I’d never suggest an idea unless I had really gotten a lot of people who I trusted to give me their two cents,” Omar said. “I knew I could make better decisions if I got other people’s viewpoints as well.”
Another aspect that Omar brought from his city council days was adding philanthropy in the business by reaching out to nonprofits to offer them nonprofit nights at the restaurant.
“I want to use the restaurant as an instrument to continue that legacy of giving back,” Omar said. “My parents, who were both immigrants, instilled in us that there was this huge responsibility to leave something better than when you got there.”
Omar applied this with the idea of conscious capitalism, wherein businesses aim to do good for society while doing well businesswise — something he learned while receiving his MBA at UTD.
The restaurant has worked with several non-profits, including Take Me Home Pet Rescue, which focuses on reducing the overpopulation of homeless pets.
Kabobi Fresh Mediterranean has dedicated the first Monday night of every month to a Backgammon tournament and the second Monday night to a UTD chess tournament.
Omar said the goal is to offer 12 nonprofit nights at the restaurant per month.
“I knew that local government and other elected officials could make an impact on other people’s lives, but it was nice to see that even in a small way, a business could do the same thing,” Omar said.
Although the food remains the same, Budri said the former restaurant has transitioned into more of a Mediterranean fusion restaurant, as the new restaurant name indicates. There are cards displaying the food name, ingredients and country of origin. The food origins include Arab, Afghan, Greek and Persian.
Generally in Mediterranean restaurants, Omar said the food tends to focus on specific flavors from Greek Mediterranean or Arabic-Lebanese and less on the idea of taking a taste tour of food originating from different countries.
Currently, the food is buffet-style for both lunch and dinner, but Omar said they hope to create menus for dinner in the future.
“With buffets, the customers who do not have an idea about the food can still enjoy all the items without having any doubts,” Budri said.
The long-term goal remains to create a sustainable and successful business for both Budri and Omar. So far in the month of March alone, there has been a 15 to 20 percent increase in the number of customers, according to Omar.
“For a while, we really started losing our business,” Budri said. “As Amir decided to join us and started marketing, we saw the difference in business and in the variety of customers coming to the restaurant.”
For both co-owners, the quality of the food stands as the top priority, followed by philanthropy. Omar said they are still working on getting a grand opening scheduled for the restaurant.
In addition to co-owning the restaurant, Omar has a day job working for HydroPoint 360º Smart Water Management, which aims to ultimately conserve water. He is also raising three kids.
There aren’t many wasted moments, he said.
“The one common thing you’ll find with people who preach the idea of doing something you love is that it doesn’t ever feel like work as long as you are doing something that feeds that inner passion,” Omar said.