Restaurants

How Island Grill became a Houston Institution — His Name is Faysal Haddad

How This Second Generation Family Business Will Continue to Serve Local Families for Another 20 Years

BY // 07.31.20

If you have frequented any of the five locations of Houston’s Island Grill, you’ve likely made a new friend. Island Grill’s owners and founders Faysal and Maria Haddad are as serious about hospitality as they are about sourcing the best ingredients for his restaurants. The dedicated couple splits up the responsibilities of running such a trusted business.

Maria manages the operations side of the restaurants, while Faysal greets each and every customer that has ever walked into the restaurant.

The walls of Haddad’s original Island Grill on Woodway Drive are lined with framed photos of families that he has watched grow over the past 20 years, friends they have made along the way and celebrity customers who fell in love with their food and relaxed atmosphere. This includes a few members of the Bush family, Houston Astros stars, former Oilers, actors, Houston Rockets, Texans and many more notable Houstonians.

Haddad immigrated from Damascus, Syria in 1981, and was originally in the telecom business when he moved to Houston. That career ended when the “dot.com crash” hit the industry hard. As luck would have it, a juice bar called Smoothie Island was looking for a buyer. So Haddad bought it in 2000 ― only looking for a short-term supplement to his income.

“I had every intention of adding some food items to it and then selling it in a year or so when telecom came back, but here we are 20 years later with five locations and more on the way,” Haddad says.

Faysal Haddad takes both hospitality and responsible sourcing seriously at Island Grill.

This explains how the growing company got its name Island Grill.

“At the time I didn’t want to spend the money on changing the signage, so I kept Island in the name,” Haddad laughs. “It’s destiny really. I believe in destiny and know that everything in the universe comes together.” The success of Island Grill surely has come together.

Island Grill’s vast menu brings something for everyone, from authentic Middle Eastern fare such as hummus, tabbouleh and kabob plates to pita sandwiches to classic American comfort foods, including pizzas, burgers and even a deli-style Ruben sandwich featuring Boar’s Head corned beef, with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on marble rye. Boar’s Head is pricier, but Haddad thinks you can really taste the difference. This is Island Grill’s foundation: quality.

Chicken Pita Island Grill
The Chicken Pita is a favorite.

Island Grill always tries to combine good taste with healthy choices. A lot of attention has been paid to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in recent years. “That’s why we cook with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. It’s dense with Omegas and it tastes the best. ‘I would feed it to my family’ is the Island Grill standard,” Haddad says.

Haddad caters to the special dietary needs of his customers as well, with gluten free options of breads, pitas and buns. And recently, Island Grill has introduced some halal items such as chicken and gyro meat and plan on adding more in the future.

DSC_1393
The modern atmosphere is perfect for the fresh and delicious fare served at Island Grill.

The family business has recently added a new member. Haddad’s daughter and LSU alum, Grace, joined the team to head operations for the growing business, which currently employs 68 people in Houston. Haddad’s only son, Michael Haddad, a senior majoring in Finance at University of Houston, also works for the family business, typically at the Rice Village location.

Island Grill has five current locations across the area — Woodway, Bellaire, Bunker Hill, Rice Village and the newest restaurant in Springwoods Village which just opened in June. The Springwoods Village restaurant is the first to feature a full-service bar, with the other locations set to follow suit, and a new design which brings a modern, Mediterranean aesthetic, as well as added attention to textural touches. The new look was designed by distinguished Houston design firm, MALI.

Other Island Grill locations will also adopt the new design, with the exception of Rice Village, which already boasts the new aesthetic. The peaceful interiors will feature cobalt blue accents, olive leaf murals and water jet bar tiles to wash diners in a coastal feel.

And soon downtown Houston will get its own Island Grill. It will be located at 1201 Louisiana, and should open within the next three months. In the meantime, Faysal Haddad, his family and his team members will keep doing what they do best.

“We know many of our customers by name,” Haddad says. “Customers who would come as kids bring their own children now. That personal touch makes all the difference.”

For more information on Island Grill and its fresh difference, check out its site.

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