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SJC Now Home to Lebanese Dining and Hookah Lounge

The Olives Branch introduces locals to Lebanese dining and an evening hookah lounge.

A father and son team has opened The Olives Branch Mediterranean Grill in Marbella Plaza to offer family-style dining with a Lebanese flair. 

“We’re introducing our food to San Juan Capistrano because there is nothing like us in this community,” said co-owner Omar Chmait, the son in the father-son duo.

The restaurant and hookah lounge have already become a weekly favorite for some who have attended previews months ago and soft openings the week after Thanksgiving.

Chmait offered San Juan Capistrano residents a free taste of the menu at “open kitchen” soft openings last week.

With father Bill Chmait’s 30-year restaurant experience and Omar’s marketing experience, the two found San Juan Capistrano to be the place to open their own Lebanese restaurant. 

Although his family moved to California from Lebanon when Bill was a toddler, the Lebanese heritage has deep roots, creating an Americanized Lebanese, tight-knit family.

Bill Chmait bought his first restaurant, Melody Grill in Houston, Texas during his senior year at University of Houston. Eleven months later, he opened a restaurant called Saab’s Restaurant. Then he owned a deli called Tutti Fruitti in downtown Los Angeles, as well as a catering business called Dinner with Bill.

Retirement from the restaurant business left something missing for Bill Chmait, so when he suggested opening up a restaurant with his son, Omar Chmait thought, ‘OK, let’s do it.’

“He’s back to being productive; he enjoys contributing to the community,” Omar Chmait said.

The hookah lounge, reminiscent of the Middle Eastern pasttime, will light up the nightlife in the restaurant. The couches, opulent lamps and music give customers a laid back, causal elegance.

“This is what I love, making connections with people,” Omar Chmait said.

New Year's Eve, Lebanese Style

Many seats have already been requested for the night of dancing and spirits, and family-style dining.

“We’re going to drop down 19 different mezza, appetizers. Then kabobs with rice: filet minion, chicken taouk, beef kafta, lamb and grilled shrimp.

Chmait recommends trying something new from their appetizers, such as their famous spicy potato dish or freshly made stuffed grape leaves.

Lunch items falafel plate, grilled jumbo shrimp and others cost between $8 to $12.

Dinner items, such as Omar’s Special with lamb chops, grilled jumbo shrimp, and filet mignon, cost between $15 and $25.

The Mediterranean Grill is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Sunday. It also offers private party and catering options for special occasions. 

“It’s very exciting. It’s a lot more work than I thought, but is much more fun than a desk job,” Omar Chmait said.

Susan Purel December 09, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Dined at the Olives Branch this weekend.... I dont know what to think about the hookah lounge. Probably will not return because of it!
Buy My Bikes December 09, 2012 at 08:23 PM
Met the Son the other day can't wait to try it! I love lamb! As far as the Hookah goes it is later in the evening don't stay that late if you don't like it! Bicycle Jim!!! Best of Luck! Thanks For Choosing Sunny San Juan Capistrano!
Penny Arévalo (Editor) December 09, 2012 at 08:36 PM
Wasn't there another restaurant in Marbella Plaza that had hookahs? Something horses cafe?
Buy My Bikes December 09, 2012 at 10:41 PM
No it was down the street an was just a Hookah Bar!!! No food! Bicycle Jim!!!
Smokey Bear December 09, 2012 at 11:48 PM
What is it that they are smoking?
jim capistrano December 10, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Wow...lamb and smoke...they could go for the trifecta and feature rap music during dinner...
Ramo Saab December 12, 2012 at 05:24 PM
People are putting too much emphasis on the hookah, this is a restaurant first and foremost and after hours will there be hookah, after the restaurants kitchen has closed will it have an after hours menu which includes wine, beer some light appetizers and hookah. The hookah will only be done outside, not anywhere food is being served.

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