The renowned restaurant serving southern Lebanon through war and peace

Al Jawad continues to welcome families in Tyre, a few kilometres from cross-border clashes between Hezbollah and Israel

Al Jawad was launched in Tyre in 1992 and has since expanded to become a four-storey restaurant. Matt Kynaston / The National
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Al Jawad is a restaurant with deep roots in the south of Lebanon. Since 1992, when the first branch opened in the city of Tyre, people have grown up eating there, and over the years Al Jawad has become a place for family and friends to gather through turbulent times.

It thrived during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon between 1985 and 2000 and throughout the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Today, the restaurant is bustling with customers, despite cross-border fighting between Hezbollah and Israel – an extension of the war in Gaza that threatens to spill over into Lebanon.

“We have been coming here since I was a child. I used to come with my family,” said Myriam, 35, from Tyre. “It feels like home. We come here all the time."

She was visiting the restaurant with a friend, who brought a baby – a member of the next generation of Al Jawad customers.

“Our customers treat the employees like they’re family,” said Ziad Hammoud, operations manager of the restaurant.

The four-storey restaurant is known for its quality food and diverse menu, which includes traditional Lebanese mezze and international dishes, as well as its relaxed atmosphere. There are now five branches across the country.

In the original branch in Tyre, the news is always on. It is something customers depend on, “especially now because of the situation [ in Gaza]", Mr Hammoud explained.

The Hezbollah-owned Al Manar news channel provides constant coverage of the war. South Lebanon is one of the strongholds of the Iran-backed militia.

But Mr Hammoud rejected the suggestion the restaurant was strongly affiliated to the group. Families from different backgrounds are regular customers.

“Because this community is considered a stronghold for Hezbollah, people think Al Jawad is Hezbollah. But that is not true,” he said.

Many customers come to Al Jawad to watch the news. Mr Hammoud said he recently asked for the TV to be switched off.

"I’d had enough of watching kids and people dying,” he said. “So they turned it off. After about an hour, I came back and found customers had requested for the news to be turned back on.”

Abu Hussein, a waiter who was among the Tyre restaurant's first employees, said broadcasts about the war were "often quite emotional".

Resilience amid crises

Al Jawad was founded by five brothers. They established a small bakery in 1992 in their family home, which was then converted into a restaurant.

They began on the first floor, opening a fast food section, before expanding to a second floor. “We call it the puzzle restaurant, because there was no planning,” Mr Hammoud said with a smile.

Today, up to 10,000 people a day normally visit Al Jaward's two southern branches during the summer. But the fighting at the Lebanon-Israel border, a few kilometres from Tyre, has hit business and halted expansion plans.

In October, the restaurant planned to open a new branch in Tyre. Mr Hammoud said 320 employees were hired to work in the outlet.

The new branch would have been the biggest, with 900 seats, and required a total investment of about $3.5 million.

It was set to open on October 7. “We asked people to go home then we locked down everything,” he said. “We could not open in this unstable situation. Nobody knows what's going to happen and given the investment, we were relying on a big turn out of people."

The two southern venues have reported a 60 per cent drop in sales, but business in Beirut has stayed the same.

However, Al Jawad has experience surviving hardship. Mr Hammoud said the southern branches remained open during the month-long war in 2006.

“We kept working until the last moment,” he said.

Mr Hammoud said the people of southern Lebanon were resilient. “Every day we say goodbye to each other because nobody knows what's going to happen. While we sit in this interview, people are dying in south Lebanon and Palestine," he added.

Mr Hammoud is keen to build on the restaurant's popularity and said Al Jawad planned to expand as a franchise outside Lebanon.

Updated: December 10, 2023, 4:51 PM