Work is finally underway on Leila, the casual downtown Detroit sibling to Birmingham’s fine-dining Lebanese destination restaurant Phoenicia. Co-owner Samy Eid says the restaurant began the process of building out its dining room roughly three weeks ago beginning, starting the official countdown to its opening in late summer 2019.
The highly anticipated new project is located at the base of the Farwell Building — a historic structure overlooking Capitol Park that’s been vacant since the 1980s that is now undergoing a major restoration.
Eid tells Eater that he began looking to open a version on his father Sameer Eid’s 47-year-old restaurant institution in downtown Detroit as far back as 2012, but none of the properties he saw were the right fit. In 2015, he decided to set the Detroit-based restaurant goal aside and purchased the Forest Grill. Shortly after Forest opened, Eid says he received a call from a broker to look at the Farwell. Eid recalls being skeptical of the property, having toured the building three and a half years back. “It just wasn’t there yet,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re crazy. I’ll never touch this. This is a disaster.” But a lot had changed since he had visited.
During that time Capitol Park had received an infusion of new businesses and residents. After seeing the progress inside the property and doing research on the history of the building, Eid says he “fell in love with it.”
Leila will occupy a 4,500-square-foot space on the south side of the property with seats for 130 patrons and a basement level, 20-person private dining room and lounge. The Eid family is working with Saroki Architecture on the design. Eid says plans initially called for preserving some of the raw, weathered interior elements of the Farwell, but the historic nature of the renovation required that the restaurant put up drywall throughout the dining room. In one case, Eid notes that Leila’s team is covering brick with drywall and adding brick veneer to achieve a similar look.
While no renderings are available of the space, Eid says the interior will pull from a natural color palette with greens and browns complemented by “some very aggressive, cool pops of color.” A central, rectangular bar will be flanked by a window-adjacent lounge space for patrons dropping in for coffee or an appetizer and a cocktail. The main dining room will be filled with a mixture of banquettes, tables, and circular booths with views of an open kitchen. In 2020, Leila will add a roughly 30-seat patio.
Eid says that Leila’s kitchen will be outfitted with a pita oven and a custom charcoal grill. The restaurant will be overseen by the Eid family as well as Forest executive chef Nick Janutol and seasoned Phoenicia chef Ali Hamdar. (Former Forest sous chef Neal Murakami was initially selected to take point at Leila, but has since left the project).
Named after Eid’s mother, Leila will serve a slightly more relaxed, family-style version of Phoenicia’s Lebanese dishes with a focus on Lebanese mezze. “Leila is based on Sundays at my mom’s house and we sit down and food is just coming out, and we all share and talk and have fun,” Eid says. Patrons will be able to mix and match appetizers as well as seafood and Lebanese grilled meat dishes known collectively as mashawi. Dry-rubbed pork ribs — a staple at Phoenicia — will also make an appearance. Eid says the goal is to open for dinner and possibly expand into lunch and breakfast depending on the rhythm of the downtown neighborhood. Brunch will also be available on the weekends.
Leila is currently on track to open in late August. Stay tuned for more updates on the project as the project moves along.