Labib Hajjar in the wine tasting room at his popular Beirut Restaurant.
Labib Hajjar, owner of the Beirut Restaurant, was awarded the Ohio Restaurant Association's Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday, June 24 at the Ohio Restaurant Association 2007 Annual Meeting Chairman's & Awards Banquet at Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark.
Mr. Hajjar was nominated by the Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association for the Lifetime Achievement Award, which acknowledges those individuals who have long-standing careers and service in the food service, hospitality, or related industries.
The Toledo restaurateur has been in the food service industry since 1974 with the opening of the Beirut Bakery, and then in 1977 with the opening of the Beirut Restaurant. In 1985, Beirut Restaurant relocated to its current location, which seats 200. In 1989 a sister restaurant Byblos, opened. Two additional restaurants are Poco Piatti in Toledo and Perrysburg.
"Labib Hajjar introduced authentic Lebanese cooking not only to myself, but our entire city," said Gus Mancy of Mancy's Restaurants in a testimonial to Mr. Hajjar nomination. "Since its inception, the Beirut has been one of (Toledo's) busiest and most accomplished restaurants. To be able to produce great food night after night for almost 30 years is a great accomplishment."
Mr. Hajjar has been a member of the NWORA since 1985 and has served as treasurer, first vice president, second vice president, and president 2000 to 2002.
The native of Lebanon came to Northwest Ohio a week shy of his 20th birthday in 1970. He became a naturalized citizen in 1980. In 1973, he earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. In 1983, he received his master's degree from the University of Toledo.
For the nomination, actor and Toledo native, Jamie Farr stated that in 50 years of show business with travels across America, Labib and Karyn Hajjar's Beirut Restaurant in Toledo is like "home-cooked cuisine many of us American-Arabs grew up with ."
Kris Berger Long, executive director of the NWORA, contacted Mr. Farr and asked him to do the introduction of Mr. Hajjar for the ceremony. "Mr. Farr was doing a play in Kansas City and he went to the Hallmark Channel and taped the introduction and they sent the tape," she said. The tape was played at the awards program as part of a power point presentation about Mr. Hajjar.
The restaurateur is known or his philanthropy and support of many charitable causes. Two big events are the Taste of the National Toledo and the American Red Cross Oscar Night. "Labib is a founding chairman for Toledo's Taste of the Nation event," notes Mr. Mancy. "He personally recruited all the restaurants for our inaugural Taste of the Nation in 1996. Labib also chairs the American Red Cross Oscar Night, a successful fundraiser that brings together many area restaurateurs.
On behalf of Taste of the Nation 2007, Event Co-Chairman Terri Thompson noted the event's growth to over 1,000 attendees and to raising over $125,000 in net proceeds last year to fight to end childhood hunger and over $800,000 since 1996.
"Labib is a great business man, a great friend, and led the restaurant association well in his presidency," said Tommy Pipatjarasgit of Magic Wok, who followed Mr. Hajjar as president of the NWORA.
Current NWORA president Roger Parker of Gladieux Catering describes Mr. Hajjar as "a solid community member who is always there to help those in our community and does not seek out recognition. However we feel he is so deserving."
Mr. Hajjar's award "is an honor to our association, too," says Mr. Parker, "because our community is recognized on a state level."
Mr. Hajjar is married to Karyn, his wife of 29 years. The couple have two sons and two daughters, and one granddaughter. They are members of St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo.
Mr. Hajjar was the 9/11 Eat Out coordinator so that the NWORA could send monies to the restaurant workers affected in New York City.
Among those attending the awards dinner from northwest Ohio were Roger and Becky Parker, Royal Barber and Pam Smith Barber, Chris Kamilaris, George Kamiliaris, Tommy and Annie Pitpatjarasgit, Tom McHugh, and Jeannie Hylant.
Also receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award was Anthony Varavvas of John's Bar & Grille Restaurant in North Canton and purveyor Fred J. Kappus of Kappus Co. of Cleveland.