Karum and Hania Kanaan are still relatively new to the restaurant business. But the couple, who have operated Andre’s Café in the South End since 2009, are confident that Dorchester’s Columbia Point peninsula is a growth market.
The Kanaans opened their new restaurant —Fiskie’s Café— on Feb. 7 after doing their homework about the neighborhood and its potential.
“We fell in love with the area, the community, the diversity of the population here,” said Karum, who picked up the nickname “Fiskie” in college.
The Kanaans came across the expansion opportunity when they were approached by a key member of the property management team from Corcoran Jennison, which owns and manages the Harbor Point community. Richard Fullam, a regular at Andre’s, asked the Kanaans if they would consider opening a second restaurant on Harbor Point Boulevard. The couple eagerly accepted.
The Kanaans decided to go into the restaurant business after getting burned out in their earlier careers. Karum, who is originally from Palestine, was spending most of his time traveling and relocating across the United States, from California to Texas to Colorado. They settled in Boston in 2009, but when his company wanted him to move again, he and his wife—who have three children – said they couldn’t do it. Kanaan quit his job and began looking at other options and didn’t want to end up in another corporate job that would require him to relocate again.
“That wasn’t something I was willing to do,” Kanaan said. “I needed to spend more time with my wife and kids.”
They decided to purchase an existing restaurant, Andre’s Café in the South End, which had opened under different ownership eight years before .
“The staff has been very stable,” Kanaan said. “The main chef has been there now going on nine and a half years, the other chef was there for seven and a half years. So we felt comfortable with who they are and their capabilities.”
Kanaan said he and Hania always wanted to expand, but they decided to take a couple of years to learn the restaurant business before deciding to open a new one.
“We started crawling, learning, making mistakes [when we bought Andre’s]. That brought us to the walking phase,” Kanaan said. “Eventually down the line, 5 or 10 years, our goal is to start running. To either have a franchise or to get acquired by someone else.”
What makes Fiskie’s unique, Kanaan said, is not only their approach to customer service, but also their involvement in the community.
“Anyone can make good food,” Kanaan said. “But what differentiates one place from another is how you treat your guests and how involved you are in the greater community.”
If a customer doesn’t like their meal, Fiskie’s will replace it, he says. Kanaan sees his approach as a way to make guests happy and build customer loyalty to the restaurant.
Kanaan’s commitment to providing people with healthy, affordable food isn’t limited to his restaurants. Before Kanaan bought Andre’s, he started getting involved with Rosie’s Place, a shelter for poor and homeless women. Last year, he said, they invited him to be on the board of directors. The Kanaans are also partnered with Boston University Medical Center and its Outreach Van Project.
“The students and the doctors go out once a month and treat the homeless population, and we provide the food,” Kanaan said. “So not only do they get medical treatment, but they get healthy food, too.”
For those who like a challenge, Fiskie’s – like Andre’s — offers a burger challenge. Challengers must eat four burgers (beef, chicken, turkey and veggie) and a half-pound of fries in thirty minutes. If they can complete the gargantuan task, they will get their name on the Fiskie’s Café Wall of Fame in the restaurant and on the Facebook page and website, as well as a free meal. If they lose, the meal will cost $30.02, and their photo will be posted on the Wall of Shame.
Only one person has completed the challenge so far: Joe Zoeller ate all four burgers and the half-pound of fries in just 13 minutes on February 20.
If you want to take the Fiskie’s challenge yourself, the restaurant is located at 27 Harbor Point Blvd.
“We’re all working toward one goal, and that goal is to make sure whoever walks in is happy. That’s our only guideline,” Kanaan said.