Last Valentine’s Day, Ya Hala‘s owners launched their new approach to fine Lebanese dining in the Fairuz Room. This recently remodeled space transformed an unused overflow seating area into a culinary event space adjacent to the family-run restaurant at 8005 SE Stark Street. The new venture from the Attar family hosts fixed menu events, catered gatherings, and curated pop-ups.
In the latter half of the 1990s, Mirna Attar and her husband owned a Lebanese grocery store in the restaurant’s current location. In addition to the packaged products imported for Portland’s growing Middle Eastern community, they offered freshly cooked counter-service meals. “We served a lot of ex-pats back then,” recalled Pascal Attar, Ya Hala’s General Manager. Eventually, demand for Mirna Attar’s prepared food outpaced the capacity of the service counter, and the family moved the grocery next door to the space currently housing the Fairuz Room. They remodeled their original corner shop into the Ya Hala restaurant, offering table service and an expanded menu.
Years later, they needed more space for seating and shifted the grocery store one more storefront east. Pascal Attar’s aunt now runs the store at 8015 SE Stark Street under the name La Bouffe International Gourmet. The family has other grocery stores, including two World Foods locations. The family-owned businesses outside Montavilla have deli counters serving foods cooked in the Ya Hala kitchen, keeping it at the center of the family’s operation. “Ya Hala is the flagship business,” explained Pascal Attar.
However, like most food service businesses, the pandemic changed how they fed customers. “COVID happened. There was a mandatory shutdown, and we shut down for a few months. We got together as a family and said, ‘OK, given everything that’s going on, how are we going to adjust our business model so it’s sustainable.’ Prior to COVID, we had about 100 seats with full service in both rooms,” recalled Pascal Attar. “We decided to go back to the original model of being an order at the counter restaurant. We slimmed our menu down from three pages down to one.” Cutting staff positions and a reduced selection allowed the restraint to survive. After a few years of operating in a simplified setup, they wanted to expand beyond the limited menu again, but not by reverting to the pre-pandemic format. “That wasn’t satisfactory for Chef Myrna, my mom because she’s a creative because she’s a visionary.” Said Pascal Attar.
Mirna Attar knew building unique menus must happen in a different footprint than their established restaurant. “She needed a space to create dishes that tie traditional Lebanese cuisine with offerings from the Northwest,” explained Pascal Attar. With Ya Hala back to its roots as a counter-service eatery with open seating, the family looked to the unused overflow dining area next door as a way to reimagine an expanded offering. That was the start of the Fairuz Room.
The Attar family styled the new reservation-only space to reflect the warmth and comfort of a Lebanese living room with the sounds and images of one of the country’s most notable performer. “Fairuz is a Lebanese icon, a national treasure. She is a singer. She also did a lot of theater, and she’s known very well across the Middle East. So we have her music on in here, and we have posters of her up in the room that were printed in Italy in the 1960s,” said Pascal Attar. The room’s theme lends itself to immersive dining, and the spacious layout allows visitors to feel at ease as if they are visiting a friend’s home for dinner.
Dining events in this space will use hyperlocal sourced ingredients paired with selections from partner wine producers. The Ya Hala website will soon feature links to a reservation system for booking tables at future set-menu dinners. Some menus will focus on foods from particular regions of Lebanon, and others could incorporate all vegetarian-vegan selections.
Those interested in booking the Fairuz Room for a party of eight or more should email firstname.lastname@example.org, and those wanting to reserve a table for a Fairuz Room dinner night should keep an eye on the company website and Instagram. The room fits 32 people at a variety of table configurations. When they begin regular service, Pascal Attar anticipates one to two dinners per week.
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