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'It's made out of love': Family behind Haddad's restaurant in Peoria kicks off 2022 with new façade, same beloved Lebanese recipes

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Hannah Alani
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WCBU
Nidal Haddad cuts a slice of meat from a gyro spit inside Haddad's restaurant on West Main Street in Peoria.

If you’ve driven past Haddad's Restaurant on West Main Street in the last few weeks, you may have noticed new digs.

Thanks to Baldovin Construction and a handful of local contractors, the beloved Lebanese restaurant kicked 2022 off with new windows, a fresh coat of paint, bright red and white lettering and a new awning.

Haddad’s was one of 40 nominations for "Revamp Peoria," a Baldovin-led effort to gift a local restaurant with a brand new facade, free of charge. The renovation – worth at least $50,000 – began in August of 2020 and was completed shortly before Christmas.

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Hannah Alani
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WCBU
The Haddad family stands in front of their namesake restaurant's building with the contractors who completed a free façade project.

Tony and Loreece Haddad started their business — initially a push cart — shortly after emigrating to Peoria from Beirut, Lebanon in 1977. They later opened the brick-and-mortar restaurant in the early 80s.

Loreece Haddad ran the restaurant as the family's matriarch until she died in August 2020. Today the restaurant is owned by Tony and Loreece's son, Gabriel Haddad, and managed by Gabriel’s son, Antoine "Tony" Haddad.

Following the unveiling of the new façade last month, WCBU's Hannah Alani spoke with Gabriel and Tony about their family's Peoria story – and their hopes for the New Year.

The following is a transcript of an interview that aired during “All Things Peoria” on Thursday, Jan. 6.

Tony Haddad: We were grateful that people in the Peoria area were able to nominate us and then we were chosen. … And we're very grateful, very grateful for everyone that made it possible through different subcontractors, and everyone that donated to the cause.

Hannah Alani: How does it feel to see this brand new façade after all these years here?

Gabriel Haddad: Overjoyed. Because they've done a really marvelous job on it. And to look at it, and look at it back then... [It’s like] brand new, everything, and the history behind it … just kind of overwhelming. … We appreciate it very much.

Hannah Alani: When was the last time the façade had had any work done or any renovations?

Tony Haddad: We were having a hard time getting ordinances to put up a sign. We had lettering on the front windows. But my grandma at the time really badly wanted a sign, so she actually paid someone that was walking on the street, not really walking on the street, but a local person that she knows that's painting. And he actually painted, “Haddad’s Restaurant” on the front of it. And that's what my grandma just had to do to get some lettering on there. And that was almost 10 years ago at that point. But that was really the last time any of the front of the façade had any revamping.

The doors that were originally here were from when this building was divided into two. So it had two addresses at the time. So the two old doors were original to the building, when we purchased it. And so, other than lettering on our windows in the front, that's the only time the façade ever had any kind of work from the time we purchased it.

Hannah Alani: [Gabriel], when did your parents pass?

Gabriel Haddad: My father passed about six years ago, and my mom, just about over a year ago.

Tony Haddad: Luckily, we were announced the winner of this only about three days, four days before she passed away. So she was actually able to see that we won. But she was not able to see any of the renderings or any of the pictures of it. But she was very grateful. I remember her in her bed, just like very happy and ecstatic, when I put it up on the TV screen for her to see, nice and big. A lot of people in the community also said that they wish they were here to see it because they’d seen them in this building, and working out on the streets their whole lives.

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Hannah Alani
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WCBU
Haddad's restaurant on West Main Street in Peoria.

Hannah Alani: Can you tell me about when your family emigrated to Peoria from Lebanon?

Gabriel Haddad: 1977, we all come in here. And Peoria was very, I mean, still good to us. Very blessed. They helped us a lot. And we want to do the same, for Peoria.

Hannah Alani: And you were just 16, 17, when you move to Peoria?

Gabriel Haddad: 16 years old.

Hannah Alani: What were your first impressions of this city?

Gabriel Haddad: Big. Big. And the language barrier was kind of a little different. But we overcome that by going to school and learning the new way of traditions and stuff. And it was joyful at that time. I grew up with it. … I adapted to it step by step.

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Hannah Alani
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WCBU
Gabriel Haddad grills meats inside his family's namesake restaurant on West Main Street in Peoria.

Hannah Alani: How long after your family moved, did you open the pushcart?

Gabriel Haddad: About couple years. [It] started kind of gradually. And finally we, Dad, just got established right downtown. And it was joy for him ... he had a lot of fun doing it. And even till the day, the end, he was still having fun with it.

Hannah Alani: How was the pandemic in general? I mean, I know restaurants suffered. Small businesses suffered everywhere.

Gabriel Haddad: Well we’re still a mom and pop restaurant. So we’re still hanging in there. And with regard to what's going on, would try to do our best, to keep as solid as we can.

Tony Haddad: We’ve tried to pivot you know, our business model. For example, we used to go into local facilities and sell food, cater in there. Now, because of the COVID pandemic, people are working from home. So we're not able to do that same thing. The Peoria courthouse … we had our down payment for our pushcart that's been there since the very beginning, we were one of the first. No one's working downtown as much. So we had to pivot away from that kind of business model. We're looking at like getting a food truck, getting that out on the streets of Peoria, because that's something that's going to be a good pivot towards a different model. Because we know that the new nature of the world is gonna be different, working from home. And we have to find the people where they are.

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Hannah Alani
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WCBU
Baldovin Construction workers dine inside Haddad's restaurant on West Main Street in Peoria. The team gifted the restaurant a brand-new, free façade shortly before Christmas 2021.

Hannah Alani: Is there anything that the Peoria community could really do to help you do well in 2022?

Tony Haddad: Support local businesses, of course. Look for those businesses that are still mom-and-pop-owned, still owned by people in the area, and make sure to visit them.

Hannah Alani: Lebanese food is very popular, especially in Peoria. What do you think makes the cuisine so special?

Tony Haddad: It's made out of love. It's made just like we would treat our family at home. So our portions are big, just like our tables are full, and we still make it like we would be serving our own family. So that's one of the most important parts about it. We eat here. I grew up eating here every single day of my life. So just how we would eat it, we feed everyone in Peoria.

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Hannah Alani
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WCBU
Tony Haddad is the manager of his family's namesake Lebanese restaurant.
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Hannah Alani is a reporter at WCBU. She joined the newsroom in 2021. She can be reached at hmalani@ilstu.edu.