Chef & Owner Spotlight – Sam Zein at Pita Bon Mediterranean Bistro

Douaa and Sam Zein are the proud owners and operators of Pita Bon Mediterranean Bistro in Cary.  Their restaurant sits back in the shopping center off Kildaire Farm Road and Farmington Woods Drive.  Originally from Beirut, Lebanon, Sam and Douaa met in their home country before moving to America for educational opportunities.  They’ve been here ever since.

Douaa is the first smiling face you typically see when you walk into Pita Bon.  She greets you when you come in and helps any first-time customers who may be unsure of what to order when looking at their Lebanese-based, Mediterranean menu.  Douaa is also quite the baker, whipping up baklava and other assorted pastries from scratch.  She has a passion for patisserie and this lead to her learning how to make them so she could eventually sell them at Pita Bon.  Sam is the man behind the scenes, but the one who initially had the vision of Pita Bon in Cary.  Sam comes from a restaurant family, tracing back over 4 generations.  The restaurant business, Sam says, is “a part of me and in my blood.”  He has family in Lebanon and Dubai that currently run Lebanese cuisine based restaurants, too.

Pita Bon - Goat Cheese Salad

Pita Bon – Goat Cheese Salad

After moving to the states in the late 1980s, Sam opened his first restaurant in New York while attending college.  He has always wanted to have his own operation since he was a teenager and he credits his family’s support and experience for helping to make that happen for him at such a young age.  In 1991, the Zein family moved to North Carolina and opened their Mediterranean restaurant in Chapel Hill.  Sam says, “At the time, many people were not as familiar with Mediterranean cuisine.  We spent time with the customers explaining what the dishes were and what ingredients were used so they could know what they’re ordering.  We still do this today at Pita Bon.”

Fast forward a few years and to a new setting, Pita Bon Mediterranean Bistro opened its doors in 2015 at their current Cary location.  The food at Pita Bon is not only well executed, but cues nostalgia in many diners who remember growing up eating Mediterranean food cooked by their family.  Sam tells me, “I’m not about the money or profit at this stage in my career.  I pride myself when customers come in and tell me ‘this reminds me of home’ when they taste our food.  We stay as true as possible to the old traditional style of creating and serving authentic Mediterranean food.”

Pita Bon - Dolmas

Pita Bon – Dolmas

In keeping with authenticity, Sam tells me, “If I wouldn’t eat it, I won’t serve it.”  With the variety of Mediterranean style restaurants in the area, Sam says, “Food is an art and science with both cooking and serving.  What we create is not ‘just a sandwich’ or ‘just a salad.’  We take care in preparing and crafting dishes that stand on their own without having too many ‘extra’ items added to stay true to our Lebanese and Mediterranean roots.”  Along with this, Sam encourages customers to try out new things.  “We want people to expand their palates if they’ve never had an item before that’s on our menu.  Try it – if you don’t like it, try something else and it’s absolutely on us.”  As Mediterranean food may be a foreign concept for some diners, this is something that reassures them they won’t be dissatisfied with a meal.  So often we can feel intimidated when walking into a new restaurant and are unsure of what to order.  The welcoming vibe from Sam and Douaa reassures diners this uncomfortable interaction is not something they will get when dining at Pita Bon.

True to Sam’s desire in sharing the goodness of Mediterranean cuisine with others, he even mentors budding young chefs.  Sam explains, “Michael is one of our prep cooks that works here in the restaurant.  He came to me wanting to learn about the restaurant business.  I’m teaching him what I know because what good is it if I keep all of my experience and knowledge to myself?  I want to share it with him and my staff so they can learn from mistakes I’ve made.”

Pita Bon - Michael

Pita Bon – Michael

If you haven’t stopped by Pita Bon in Cary yet, don’t wait.  Eating the thoughtfully prepared, well-seasoned food items are only the tip of the iceberg.  Douaa and Sam treat you like family when you’re here, making sure everything is to your liking and you’re nothing less than satisfied with the meal you’ve ordered.  I can only imagine this is what it’s like sitting around the table sharing a meal with their family in Lebanon and I look forward to experiencing this every time I’m at Pita Bon Mediterranean Bistro.

Pita Bon - Gyro Pita

Pita Bon – Gyro Pita

 


Tessa Nguyen is a chef and registered dietitian working in the Triangle area. She is an alumna of Johnson & Wales University and Meredith College. When Tessa isn’t traveling and discovering new food spots, she teaches culinary nutrition cooking classes at Duke and works as a consultant in the health and wellness industry. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @ChefTessaRD.

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