Anyone who has dined at Makan or Mótto will tell you that they are far from your ordinary restaurants. With rotating chefs, exotic flavors and a pay-what-you-think-is-fair pricing model, the two eateries are challenging the traditional Beirut dining experience.
The Mar Mikhael restaurants were opened by partners Tony Sfeir, Angela Solomon and Karim Ghazzi back when the area was still a residential and industrial neighborhood. “Mótto started as a small bistro; pretty much the size of a kitchen, and barely able to fit 20 people,” Karim recounts. But it didn’t take long for word about the new concept to spread and the partners to open Makan, their second venture.
A year and a half after its opening, Makan now hosts a new chef each week, with fixed three to five-course menus featuring cuisines not readily available in Beirut, like Sri Lankan, Thai, Indonesian, Iranian and Moroccan. Mótto on the other hand focuses on Indian cuisine, offering a weekly set menu from a region of India. It is now run by new partner Raji Varma of Sirena, the oldest Indian restaurant in Ras Beirut that has been famous in the area since 1960.
The dining experiences at Makan and Mótto focus not only on international food, but on the cultures and traditions behind them. As Karim explains, “food on the table bridges gaps between cultures, like traveling to a new place.” Through the kitchen, they invite diners to reflect on foreign countries and the cuisines that they inspire.
Perhaps the most unique part of the two restaurants is the innovative pricing model they share. Rather than offering customers a lengthy menu with set prices, Makan and Mótto have reversed the equation. The partners decided to open a restaurant that would prepare consistently high-quality and thoughtful meals, and ask diners to pay what they think is fair. “We choose the food and the customer defines the price based on their appreciation and overall experience,” explains Karim. Patrons of Makan and Mótto will find delicious food, a beautiful ambiance, and an invitation to think more carefully about their dining experience as a whole.
Makan and Mótto are not the only ventures that Karim and Tony have created. They also run Zawya, a wine store, while Tony along with creative director Karma Tohme run Plan Bey, an art store and gallery, Zawal, an artisan shop, and BeyT, a renovated 19th century house and multi-functional space. All of their projects are located in Mar Mikhael and stem from the same philosophy of urging consumers to reflect on the products and services they use where artisans, artists and chefs are the center stage. Zawya, for example, features wines exclusively from Lebanese independent, family-run wineries. “This way we can tell you exactly where the grapes that made your wine come from,” says Karim.
With five projects in full swing, these ventures are veering from the mainstream in Beirut. The partners, in their unique ways, are encouraging international exchange and supporting local development by bringing new flavors, ideas, and experiences to the city.
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