The Island Grill That Started It All — Faysal Haddad Turned a Once Struggling Smoothie Spot Into a Houston Restaurant Treasure

This Woodway Mainstay is Better Than Ever Now

BY // 05.09.22

The framed photographs lining the walls of Island Grill on Woodway tell stories of family, friends, food and the fulfillment of dreams. Each face and every moment captured forever reflects the joy of a job well done. 

Set in motion years ago by Faysal Haddad, with his wife by his side, along with their family, the Island Grill empire has grown to include six restaurants across Houston, with more on the horizon. There’s no limit to just how far the Island Grill restaurant collective can grow, but the heart of this restaurant family will always be found at 5709 Woodway Drive.  

Haddad cares a great deal about all of his Island Grill locations, of course, but he has a certain soft spot for the original restaurant on Woodway. It was his first location and the place where he put down roots and watched his family grow up. These days, it seems like there’s not a single person who walks through the door he doesn’t know. 

Haddad’s a jovial, gregarious man made for the hospitality industry. He notices when a customer’s glass is running low and he’s always scoping out the restaurant, making sure a regular’s table is available for them. Good service is in the details — and Haddad makes sure no element of the dining experience goes on without his approval. 

“This. . . this is my destiny,” Haddad says on a sunny spring day. The Island Grill doors are open and sunlight streams throughout the restaurant. Diners float between the patio and the inside, refilling drinks and chatting with friends.  

It’s a scene Haddad treasures and not one he would have anticipated 22 years ago. This restaurant natural didn’t start out in the restaurant business. Only after the bottom fell out of the telecom industry in 2000 did Haddad switch gears, reluctantly buying a then juice bar called Smoothie Island. At first, the Haddads only sold juices, smoothies and vitamins. 

“I didn’t want to deal with food. In fact, I tried to sell the restaurant,” Haddad admits.

The purchase was never meant to be long term, but since life is what happens when you’re making plans, Haddad, his wife Maria Haddad and their children pushed ahead, laying the foundation for what Island Grill is today. 

Faysal Haddad tells of the moment it all changed. “One day, I looked at my wife and said ‘We need to add food,’ ” he says.

After a few family recipes, some harsh learning curves and falling on their face a few times, the original Island Grill was born a few years later and success soon followed, Grace Haddad notes. 

The Island Grill of Today

Each location takes both hospitality and responsible sourcing seriously. The Haddad family has cooked with extra virgin olive oil since they introduced food to the restaurant, crediting their family heritage for the must-have healthy ingredient. Island Grill’s Mediterranean menu is loaded with healthy and filling favorites like hummus, falafel and gyros, but over time it has evolved to include a plethora of other dishes like hamburgers, chicken piccata and crème brûlée French toast.

There is something for everyone here.

The menu isn’t the only thing to change and grow at the Woodway restaurant in the early days. Grace and Michael Haddad cherish childhood memories playing Nintendo GameCube on a Mickey Mouse TV tucked behind the kitchen wall a few feet from the front door. Faysal and Maria purchased it for them and the other kids at Island Grill.

“It made being there for long periods of time easy and fun,” Grace Haddad recalls.

Faysal Haddad also mounted an HD television in the restaurant that drew a very specific crowd. “The day traders would come in during rush hour,” Faysal Haddad says. “They would come in and watch CNBC. It was crazy.” 

‘I would feed it to my family’ is the Island Grill standard.

The restaurant became a community hub with Haddad emerging as the mayor of delicious, healthy food. The key is a relaxed place to enjoy it all. Quick coffees, leisurely lunches, post-practice snacks and family dinners all take place at Island Grill.  

“It takes you back to the old days, like Leave it to Beaver and the neighborhood soda shop,” Faysal Haddad says. “What’s so beautiful now is seeing the kids I’ve known since elementary school coming in now, pushing their own babies in strollers. It just feels good.”

Another sign of the close-knit community fostered by the Haddad family? Longtime employees like Ramona Perez and Pete Harrison, both of whom have been with the company for more than two decades.  

Over the years, famous faces began gracing Island Grill’s orange walls. The Houston restaurant’s walls are now truly a “Who’s Who” of notables including sports greats Joe Montana, Ray Childress, Andy Pettitte and Mario Ellie. While the restaurant was still called Smoothie Island, George H.W. Bush visited the neighborhood spot and created his own smoothie — a blend of strawberries, blueberries and banana. You can still order the presidential smoothie today. 

The Haddads continued to adapt and grow and that eventually meant updating the Woodway location. They turned to Margaret Ann McEver, owner of the Houston design firm MALI, for the overhaul. While the orange walls had to go, the framed pictures were an absolute must-stay.  

The results are stunning, bringing a modern space that’s sleek, but not fussy, complete with blue and green accents and complementary textures. In what’s surely a sly nod to the bold citrus walls of the past, the family introduced wood-fired pizzas to the menu. Which meant a bright orange pizza oven in the kitchen that’s easily visible. 

“The Woodway remodel was a pretty emotional moment for our family,” Grace Haddad says. “That location started as a struggling hole in the wall smoothie and juice bar. My brother and I spent a lot of our time there because my parents made up half of the staff at the beginning.

“My dad would go door-to-door with flyers trying to drive business. My mom even worked behind the counter up until she was 9 months pregnant with my younger sister Sophie.”

Of course, that was then and this is now. The now includes a full-service bar that is a favorite spot for happy hour get-togethers. The restaurants also hosts Wine Wednesdays from 3 pm to 7 pm, offering half off any bottle or glass of wine with the purchase of an entree. The cocktail menu is extensive and the wine list is full of quality varietals for every palate.

Faysal Haddad takes both hospitality and responsible sourcing seriously at Island Grill.
Faysal Haddad, pictured here at Island Grill in Spring, Texas, the first of the restaurant’s locations in Houston’s surrounding areas.

Faysal Haddad beams with pride with the once struggling smoothie spot now a longstanding community gathering place. He appreciates all those who have made Island Grill a success. 

“This has been our whole social life,” he says. “It means a lot to us that people appreciate our food and what we have to offer. It’s a little like Cheers here. Everyone knows your name.” 

And if for some reason you need a name refresher, just ask Faysal. He really does seem to know everyone’s name. And if he doesn’t know yours, he’ll surely learn it the first time you come in.

For more on Island Grill, its menus and its fresh difference, check out its full website.