Even if you drive down Washington Road in Evans every day, you still might not have noticed Laziza Mediterranean Grill — it’s in the same shopping strip as Publix and hard to see from the road.
What makes the fast-casual Laziza so special is the home-cooked taste of their meals, many of which Khatib adapted from his mother’s and his own recipes to put together the menu.
He says he opened the restaurant because he wanted to expand in the Augusta area the options for the types of food he grew up on.
“I’m from Michigan, the Detroit area, and there’s restaurants like this everywhere in Michigan, so when I came here, I didn’t find any; there wasn’t any,” Khatib explained. “So I was like, you know, it’s an opportunity to expose to people to new types of food.
“It’s real healthy; it’s all fresh made, we cook everything to order, everything’s made in house, from our sauces to our salad dressings to everything.”
Khatib has lived in the Augusta area since 2006 after serving in the Air Force. His wife, Lisa, also has a military background, and she helps out in the restaurant by serving as a cashier during the week.
Khatib says he wasn’t formally trained in the culinary arts — he is self-taught. After six years of military service, he worked as a government contractor for five years. Then, his contract fell through. Being a food lover, he decided to take a chance on opening up a food business.
“Just bringing Middle Eastern food, Mediterranean food to Augusta — I think there was only one other restaurant that served food like this before I opened — it was Shishkebab — so I feel like we helped kind of pioneer it in the area,” Khatib said. “It took a while for people to sort of get… I don’t want to say used to the food, but people are apprehensive that come and eat here, because they don’t know what it is, you know, funny names (for) the food, and they’re just kind of scared. But I feel that over the past six years, we’ve gotten the area used to it, and we’re just doing better and better every year. Business is increasing; we’re looking to expand, hopefully soon, don’t know when, possibly downtown.”
“I’m back and forth between, do I want to do the same exact set-up and menu downtown, or do I want to do something a little bit downsized that’s a smaller menu that doesn’t require as much to keep up with? … It depends on the space, I guess. If it’s a small space, we may just go with a smaller setup, but it really depends.”
What Khatib loves about serving food in this area is how friendly the people are. He says it’s different from his hometown in Michigan.
“I like that people are really open to trying new things around here. … Everybody’s really nice; it’s that Southern hospitality niceness that everybody has — it’s real nice.”
What to order
If a customer comes in and is unsure of what to order, Khatib says he recommends the chicken shawarma — it’s their most popular menu item, and it’s also available as a lunch special. The cooking process for chicken shawarma involves a stack of marinated boneless, skinless chicken thighs that spin around and are heated from the outside. As the meat heats up, the outside layer is shaved off, and Laziza staffers keep shaving it until the meat is gone. It takes about 30 minutes until the first layer is ready to be shaved, and the entire stack of chicken usually takes about five hours to cook through all the layers. They build two sets of chicken shawarma a day.
“The chicken shawarma’s the most popular; we always try to push that to people because it’s fast to prepare, because it’s already shaved and sitting in a warmer,” Khatib said.
He went on to describe other popular menu items — some of which aren’t typically found on a Mediterranean menu.
“And then we’ve got some other odds and ends, like our salmon tacos,” he said. “I know it’s kind of weird for there to be tacos in a Mediterranean restaurant, and for them to be salmon, but it’s really popular and we sell a ton of ’em. But they’re really tasty, so that’s another thing I’d recommend.”
Also popular on the menu is the family feast, which people can pick up for dinner to feed their families. It feeds three to four people and comes with a choice of salad, hummus, chicken kebabs, beef kebabs, lamb kebabs, chicken shawarma, falafel, rice and garlic pita. Laziza has four varieties of hummus (classic, roasted red pepper, roasted garlic or jalapeño) that all are made in house starting from a dry bean that’s soaked overnight and then boiled.
The gyros at Laziza are a little different from the norm, in that they’re rolled like a burrito inside of a very thin pita. Laziza also has options for vegetarians, and the dishes can be made vegan by request.
Khatib is thankful for how his restaurant has grown in the six years it’s been open.
“I’m proud that we’re still open … a lot of restaurants, after the first year, they close down, so we’ve been able to keep it going,” he said. “I’m proud that I’m able to provide jobs for my employees; I’ve got seven or eight employees, eight people that I employ pretty much full time, so I’m proud that I’m able to do that for them. … They’re very hard workers. And I’m happy that I can provide a quick lunch. That’s another thing, our lunches are generally busier than our dinner, but we’re able to get people in and out really fast here, considering they’re getting fresh food.”
Speaking of fresh, Laziza is sporting a new look inside, after renovations were done in May. The location boasts new countertops, new signs on the walls, fresh paint and wall paper, and a new chair rail on the wall. The tile in the back of the restaurant also was redone.
The restaurant offers catering, with a recently redone catering menu. Laziza often caters to offices and private events, and some small weddings. The events catered average about 30 to 40 people — sometimes more, sometimes less. Catering runs about $5.50 to $10 a person, depending on what’s ordered. The catering menu, along with the regular menu, are available online at lazizagrill.com.
Laziza already has a loyal fan base, but Khatib hopes to get more customers on that list.
“I just want people to see us, to find us, come eat, try it,” he said. “Once they try it, they’ll get hooked.”