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Some 20 years ago Lebanese food in America consisted of thick pita passing itself off as Khibiz Arabi, falafel sandwiches paired with romaine lettuce and carrot shavings, hummus scooped directly out of a dusty, imported can of mashed chickpeas."It was Lebanese but very, yani, Tex-Mex," recalls Philippe Massoud, owner and chef behind Manhattan's acclaimed Lebanese restaurant ilili. Since his days as an overambitious hospitality undergrad, Massoud has dreamed of revolutionizing the state of Lebanese food in America. He spent his late teens and 20s antagonizing Lebanese restaurant owners, attempting to buy a chain of lackluster falafel joints in upstate New York and watching several projects for his own place fall through. It was the name, therefore, not the menu that posed the biggest challenge when Massoud was putting together his business plan.The name appealed to Massoud for its almost numerical aesthetic.Massoud describes the chain of events that led the family to move permanently into their own establishment.Massoud's father was assassinated in his final year of high school, the Coral Beach Resort subsequently sold by the time he was a second-semester freshman at Cornell University and his adolescent dreams of returning home and expanding the business were destroyed.Before that dream was realized in ilili, Massoud helped conceive and create Neyla, a Lebanese restaurant in Washington.
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