For 40 years, Neomonde Mediterranean Deli has been a go-to spot for authentic Lebanese cuisine inspired by the recipes cooked in its owners’ homes – fresh hummus, seasoned kabobs, fluffy pitas.
But as the owners look ahead to the company’s future, small and large changes are in the works.
Within the month, owners will announce a location for a Durham restaurant, representing its first site outside Wake County. The first restaurant is in Raleigh on Beryl Road, not far from Meredith College. A second site is in Morrisville, which is poised to undergo renovations. A new serving line that’s more open will be installed by mid-May.
More immediately, recent visitors may have noticed new additions to the menu, along with a new menu presentation, as well as tweaks to how the popular sides are ordered and a new emphasis on all-natural ingredients and healthier recipes.
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“The whole point is making ourselves more available to people,” said Christopher Saleh, the 38-year-old son of owners Sam and Betty Saleh and the vice president of retail and marketing. “It’s really a mission.”
The restaurant was founded in 1977 by Sam Saleh and his brothers Joe, Mounir, and DeGaulle, and has grown to the two restaurants along with a bakery that produces pita bread, desserts and other products. Altogether, they employ about 200 people.
It continues to be a family affair. Sam and his family run the restaurants. Joe runs the bakery. Lamia Saleh, Christopher’s sister, handles design and is overseeing the Morrisville renovation. Christopher’s wife, Laura Saleh, is director of catering and special events. Cecilia, the family matriarch and the inspiration for much of the food, still comes by work every week at the age of 89. “She’s quality control,” Christopher said. “That’s what we call her.”
Christopher Saleh said the recent changes have been a year in the making and are geared toward moving the company forward.
Saleh lived in California for several years and was a music producer for Universal Records. He saw the emphasis on healthy eating and told his parents that Neomonde should start using all-natural ingredients.
It’s not cheap to do, though, particularly for a relatively small operation that’s not a national chain. But they were able to negotiate a reasonable deal because of the volume of meat – beef, lamb and chicken – used for wraps and shawarmas. The steak and chicken are grain fed. The lamb is all-natural grass fed.
“It costs us a little bit more,” he said. “We’re serving it for just a little bit more. But it’s still a great value. For us as a little guy, we were super determined to make it happen.”
More importantly, he said, the restaurant is helping customers lead healthier lifestyles. All-natural flour also is used with pita while organic flour is used for the man’ousheh flatbreads. There are some gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options, too.
Children 10 and younger eat free on Tuesday nights with an adult’s purchase of entree, platter or large sandwich.
“We’re not a fancy place,” he said. “But we’re a place where families come.”
Saleh said the concept is fresh-casual (not fast-casual) and modern Mediterranean. While diners will find traditional dishes like baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant), hummus and shawarma wraps, they’ll also find dishes with more modern ingredients, like quinoa tabouli, cilantro jalapeno hummus, pomegranate salad with kale and mixed greens and a freekeh salad with ginger and cilantro that quickly has become a favorite in the glass case of sides.
They’re featuring more man’ousheh (pronounced manoushee), or flatbreads. In Lebanon, they’re rolled up and eaten as street food. At Neomonde, they appear more like a pizza. Toppings include spinach and feta; three cheeses; and ground beef.
Besides a review of what’s on the menu, the menu’s appearance also was given a makeover.
For newcomers, the menu now features “Neomonde A to Z” with a glossary of items that might not be familiar. It also advises what dishes diners might like if they’re new to the cuisine. New menu boards have been installed that are easier to read while diners wait in line to be served.
As for the long lines that form at lunch time, those may remain, but Saleh has worked to streamline part of the operation to cut down on wait times. The popular sides – everything from couscous to chicken salad – no longer are priced based on weight. All sides are $3.50 for dine-in. Those who want sides to-go can buy them for $4, $7 or $12, depending on the size.
The changes were introduced this spring with a social media campaign, another bit of modern introduced by Christopher Saleh. Sam Saleh teased the changes in a video that was quickly shared on Twitter.
“He’s a private guy,” Christopher Saleh said. “I told him, I think it would be better from you. ... This will help bridge the generation.”
Sam Saleh is still seen in the restaurants serving customers, and Betty Saleh is still the chef de cuisine. But Christopher Saleh said while he knows retirement isn’t a reality for his father, he sees him slowing down a bit with the next generation taking over the business. After all, that’s all Christopher Saleh has ever known.
“Neomonde is my older brother,” Saleh jokes. “It’s the business. It’s my invisible older brother.”
Jessica Banov: 919-829-4831; @JessicaBanov
By the numbers
Neomonde Mediterranean Deli makes the following:
▪ 500 pounds of hummus a day
▪ Hand rolls about 1,000 grape leaves a day
▪ Makes pita at a rate of 10,000 per day