Executive profiled a collection of beloved Beirut venues which have been in operation for more than 35 years and evoke strong feelings of nostalgia among the city’s residents. The aim was to discover more about their history and learn the secrets of their success, nostalgia aside.
Socrate got its name due to its proximity to the American University of Beirut — on Bliss Street — where the expected clientele were to be professors and students who would appreciate the name.
Socrate, established by the Zeidan family in 1964, began as a restaurant offering “international cuisine.” At that time, recalls Saad Zeidan, the general manager and son of one of the previous owners, international meant all types of cuisines including some Lebanese dishes.
The Zeidan family also had La Ronda, a well known restaurant in Downtown Beirut which was destroyed during the civil war and didn’t reopen afterwards.
According to Zeidan, Socrate had a very successful run attracting the high end clientele from Ras Beirut which was known at the time as a hub for the international community, with all the embassies located there and with AUB in its vicinity.
In the 1980s, because of the civil war, the Zeidan family left Beirut and Socrate, reopening with a strong focus on catering in the early 1990s.
In 2009, Socrate opened a new restaurant on Sidani Street, parallel to their location on Bliss, and although 80 percent of their sales is still from catering, the restaurant proved to be very successful indeed.
In 2012, and with a steady growth in the company, Socrate moved its catering to Jnah with a 4,000 square meter kitchen and a team of around 180 employees, a big change from the small restaurant with 25 employees. In line with their developments, the Zeidans also shifted from an individuals-owned company to a shareholding one. Today, Socrate handles all catering services — starting with the food itself and moving on to cutlery, furniture and even the waiters — for all kinds of events ranging from corporate to private.
Zeidan believes they were able to last this long because “they have a good reputation and loyal clients and employees.” He illustrates his point by saying that some of their older chefs have taught their children the trade and brought them along to join the team. He also believes that their offering of traditional Lebanese dishes which are difficult to make at home also gives them an advantage over the newer caterers in town.