RIGHT DIRECTION: Asif Daher turned his passion for cooking into a successful downtown eatery.

Archived Story

Good taste: restaurant puts people before profit

Published 8:11pm Monday, January 28, 2013

He’s heard it time and time again since opening the doors of his waterfront restaurant, Zaitona. Friends, employees and even customers have told owner Asif Daher that he priced his Middle Eastern food too low.

Daher has run a special since he opened his doors about three months ago, four menu items for about as much as you would pay for a slice of pizza or sandwich elsewhere.

Between the specials, $3 soups and $2 desserts, the Zaitona menu fits any budget.

Daher said the low prices are all a part of his marketing strategy.

Growing up in Jerusalem, Daher grew up eating and preparing items like shawarma, tabouli, falafels and kufteh featured on his menu. But he understands that most of his Beaufort County market has never heard of the stuff.

“People are not going to take a chance if they are not familiar with the food. You’ve got to do the prices very cheap until they get to know it,” Daher said.

His philosophy is “it takes money to build customers.”

“I’d rather spend $3- or 4,000 a month on the customer than spend it on TV,” Daher said of his marketing plan. “Honestly, the word-of-mouth has helped us the most.”

He said Zaitona has customers who return five times a week; social media is abuzz with talk of Little Washington’s Mediterranean restaurant; and websites like TripAdvisor.com have ranked the restaurant one of the best in Washington.

Daher was not surprised by the reaction to his food, but he thought it would take more time to build the reputation Zaitona has.

“God is always good. Do the right thing, treat people the way you want to be treated and what goes around will come around,” he said.

Daher said customer service is key. He accommodates diners any way he can. Even his hours are flexible. As long as customers are there, Daher said his restaurant is open. The restaurant is open seven days a week and Sunday has become one of its busiest days of the week.

Zaitona is Daher’s first restaurant. He owns three convenience stores (one of them in Washington) and plans to open a second Zaitona in Greenville.

Daher lives in Greenville, but he had his heart set on opening his first restaurant on the Washington waterfront.

“This location has been closed for the past two years and I’ve been after it for the past two years,” he said. “It has the best view in eastern Carolina.”

The restaurant currently has a full bar, outdoor seating and a dining room with views of the Pamlico River. Daher said he plans to expand the dining space and open the First Street entrance.

In the coming months, he will introduce a few seafood dishes to the menu. Zaitona will also start offering breakfast.

The breakfast menu will include a few familiar southern dishes. Daher said he wants to give southern breakfasts a healthy Mediterranean twist.

“Except the cheese biscuits. Cheese biscuits are not healthy. But we make them in a few of our gas stations and people say we have the best cheese biscuits,” Daher said.

Daher also hopes to introduce some of his farm’s fresh organic produce to the menu.

Daher said Washington was an excellent location for his restaurant because there weren’t enough restaurants offering healthy options like Zaitona has.

“This is the healthiest food around, guaranteed, the freshest food around,” he said.

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