When Jaffar Shukair turned an old storefront Subway sandwich shop into the Pyramids Café six years ago, he did what he could on a limited budget. But Lebanon-born Kozhaya Choucaira (who goes by the nickname Zach) has bigger plans for the 54-seat space. He's packed up the Pyramids Café's souvenir shop, torn down a half-wall, closed off the kitchen from view and covered the other walls in a sophisticated, Moorish-influenced wallpaper. He also removed several of the signature Pyramids Café dishes (Shanghai eggrolls, for example) and put his own touch on the remaining Middle Eastern offerings, including a more flavorful baba ghanoush and a more generous sampler plate. And he's changed the name to the Mediterranean Café.
"I want to offer dishes that represent all the cuisines of the Mediterranean," Choucaira says. "Turkish dishes, Italian pastas, Greek fare. And I'm trying very hard to get a liquor license."
That might be complicated; this one-block stretch of Broadway is already saturated with restaurants and bars. But Choucaira, who runs the little dining room with his American-born wife, Odette, is hopeful. "Our regular customers would like to have a glass of wine with their dinners."
The regular clientele of the old Pyramids Café has been mostly supportive of his changes, Choucaira insists. "He's done a great job on the inside. Now if only someone could do something about the neighborhood," one customer told me.
But Choucaira likes the urban feel to the neighborhood, which seems scary enough at night that his neighbor, The Grille on Broadway, hired John Benson a few years back to create a well-known and controversial ad campaign ("Dangerous food, killer neighborhood" and "Where valet parking is grand theft auto") mocking public perceptions.
"This neighborhood is no different from Westport," Choucaira says with a shrug. "The same mix of people -- young, old, rich, poor, homeless. But that's what makes midtown attractive: a variety of places to eat, lots of parking, interesting people to meet."
Choucaira is doing all the cooking himself, but he still comes into the dining room to greet customers when he can. "I want people to know that it isn't just the décor that has changed," he says. "Everything has."