“Being in a family business isn’t easy,” says Mario Haddad Jr., who points out that the trio who run Empire Intl. — Mario Sr., brother Gino and he himself — have very different personalities, “and we often clash.”
Of course they are also “complementary” when it comes to work. Still, when Mario Jr. was 25, he felt the urge to go into business on his own. So he found some investors and in 1997 boldly opened a Beirut sushi bar that clicked, making a profit after just 13 months. A Moroccan lounge followed. Then Beirut’s first rooftop restaurant.
He now owns seven eateries, one of which is in Dubai.
Though it’s allowed him to branch out on his own, Mario Jr.’s passion for food comes from Mario Sr., who heads the Italian Academy for Gastronomy in Lebanon and has earned honors in recognition of his skills in Italian cuisine.
Mario Jr. remembers as a child being entranced by the smell coming out of the kitchen where his father was cooking. He wanted to help him at the stove but burned the food because he was “too short.” “The first time I invited him and my mom for a whole cooked meal I was 11,” he recounts. Over the years, they had often talked about opening a restaurant together.
Mario Jr. recounts the time five years ago when he took his father to check out a new little Italian restaurant in Beirut: They were driving down a back alley when Mario Sr. asked, “Where the hell are you taking me?” Then he looked up and saw a sign that said “Mario e Mario,” Mario Jr. recalls. “He said: ‘Stop! Stop! Look at those f*****s, they stole our name!’”
They went inside and it’s all pictures of them cooking. He asked: “Did you know about this?”
Says the younger Haddad of the restaurant: “It’s my ode to him.”
In March, Mario e Mario celebrated its fifth anniversary with them both there cooking, and eating, pasta in tandem.