Nazih Sebaali, the owner of the venerable Café Annie which stood in the heart of downtown Orlando for 29 years, is now serving Mediterranean fare in the heart of Baldwin Park. His restaurant, Meza, occupies a gleaming space on Jake Street. But, for all the spanking newness, Meza's menu highlights enduring classics of Sebaali's native Lebanon, and, judging how strong a following Annie's falafel garnered, that's a good thing.
The restaurant is the culmination of a year and a half's worth of buildout and renovations. When you consider Sebaali came to the U.S. as an engineering student 40 years ago, his success in the cutthroat restaurant biz is all the more remarkable.
"I worked in the hospitality industry so that I could help my parents pay for my college," says Sebaali. "I loved the restaurant business so much, I decided to stay working in it." Much to the chagrin of his parents, no doubt, yet for Sebaali, it's his father he most wants to emulate. "He's my mentor. My father worked hard all his life to ensure that we had everything we needed. He sacrificed his life to better ours, and that's exactly what I want to do for my children."
Like Café Annie, Meza promises to become a Baldwin Park institution – at least, that's the hope, and Sebaali knows the winning tack. "In this business, you need to tap into what matters most to your customers – what's important to them. So I hire people who are qualified, and who care. We Lebanese, we're known for our hospitality, and this is the image I want to project in my restaurant." Meza sits next door to another institution – Seito Sushi, one of the city's finest Japanese restaurants – so here's hoping some of Seito's brilliance rubs off on the new kid on the block.