While Downtown Fullerton may be known as a drunken party atmosphere, places like D'Vine defy the stereotype. We spent this week with the talented Walid Alarja, learning how his brand came to be.
Where does the name come from?
Lena and I wanted something that represented our family heritage of food and culture. The Vine was the original name idea, and actually was recorded that way. When she picked up her kids from school to announce that "The Vine was official", her son misheard her and said, "D'Vine?". That's how the story goes of how we got the name.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
To be prepared, organized and, most importantly, have the passion to cook.
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Our traditional breakfast, which consists of fool, hummus, falafel, labne, boiled eggs, olives, olive oil and zaatar. And of course, the pita bread!
Where did you grow up? If you're not from Orange County, what brought you here?
Bethlehem. I followed my children here to the United States for their schooling. It was the best decision I ever made, as Orange County has become my new home and I love the area and new friends now in my life.
How did you and Lena meet, and when did you realize that working together on D'Vine made sense?
She was a customer of mine at my first location, and I asked her to help me find other locations to open (knowing she was in real estate). When she showed me the Brea location, we began talking about ways we could partner and grow the brand. It takes a team to work in the industry, and we work very well together by combining our unique skills.
What are your best-selling savory and sweet items?
Our D'Vine signature chicken shawarma and Lena's baklava dessert, which is actually her grandmother's recipe.
One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true.
Many people assume that restaurant owners are wealthy and don't work very much, when in reality it's the complete opposite! We are passionate about the restaurant business and our food, and that takes up many more hours per week than the average job.
One food you can't live without:
Bread, as it completes any meal. We enjoy many types of food, and it's amazing how bread is such a staple in so many cultures around the world.
Let's talk about the delicious garlic sauce!
Our popular garlic sauce was created 15 years ago. I wanted a creamier structure of sauce to be available, especially with the grilled chicken. I first tried many versions using my hands, crushing the garlic, adding the salt and olive oil. Through trial and error, I formulated our smooth and buttery garlic sauce that consists of ONLY raw garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a touch of salt.
Please tell us the differences between your Brea and Fullerton locations.
Brea was our first introduction of D'Vine. It is very quaint with only 1,275 square feet to work with. There is much support from local residents, as Brea is located in a very family-oriented area. The Fullerton location is our second, and is in the heart of downtown with other 8,000 square feet of space. We kept a traditional look with this larger spot. It has a variety of venues, from a banquet room, smoking lounge, two spacious patios, a dining room and full bar.
What items are special to D'Vine compared to other Mediterranean restaurants?
Everything is authentic, prepared from scratch and always with the freshest ingredients. All our food is marinated and seasoned from natural and healthy spices. We show our excitement for Mediterranean food in all ways; from the menu offerings, restaurant design, educated staff and D'Vine lounge area. We even import rare Israeli and Lebanese wines that are some of the best in the world.
Favorite places to eat.
I always like trying new places and supporting other businesses. Lately, we've been excited about Grits, Burger Parlor and Hopscotch Tavern. We were recently at the Golden Foodie Awards, and had the chance to try food from Puesto and some delicious coffee from Kean.
When you're not in the kitchen, what are you doing?
Trying to rest. I spend much of my time at the restaurant and working on the menu.
Last thing you looked up online:
What's new in the kitchen over in the Middle East.
What other skills do you have outside of the kitchen?
Hunting. I enjoy the excitement of bringing home my own food and tracking down meals the way people did so long ago.
Tell us about your culinary education. Where did you go to school, and was there a particular focus? Also, do you think going to culinary taught you anything that real life experience might not have?
I attended a French culinary school in Alexandria, Egypt, and my primary focus was to become a chef. I always had a passion for creating and building a quality menu that would be loved by many. My education helped me gain the knowledge and be able to creatively mix varieties of flavors, produce and poultry.
Favorite meal growing up.
Makloubeh, which is an upside down traditional meal that is layered with lamb meat, rice, cauliflower and eggplant.
What's your favorite childhood memory?
I loved being in nature and most of my memories are spending time outside with my family.
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Hardest lesson you've learned:
So many of them. One would be moving on from one business to another. I had another restaurant in Fullerton before this, and making the decision to close that one and start fresh was difficult. Sometimes the obvious decision is right in front of you, and you must follow your heart and make the leap.
What is the D'Vine Lounge Experience?
The lounge experience appeals to those ranging from young professionals to retired locals who want to stop by after a long day to have a drink, smoke a cigar or even dance the night away. The nightlife begins after 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and we have live DJ's, hookah and people enjoying the ambiance of something different. We pride D'Vine as being a premium restaurant, but also are not pretentious and want all guests to feel invited to have an amazing experience.
What would you like to be doing if you weren't in this business?
I would be working in hotel management and helping build a world-class hospitality experience.
D'Vine: A Mediterranean Experience has locations in Brea and Fullerton. Learn more at www.dvineexperience.com.