CEDAR RAPIDS — Chris Shaheen, owner of new downtown Cedar Rapids restaurant Food Factory, has been in the restaurant world as long as he can remember.
His parents, Mounif and Houda Shaheen, own Olive Tree Restaurant at 1500 20th St. SW, Suite C, Cedar Rapids, and growing up he would help out there on weekends. His parents are originally from Lebanon, and as an adult he would run the restaurant for them when they made trips home. He also learned how to cook from watching his mother, who taught him how to make Lebanese dishes alongside the American-style diner food Olive Tree specializes in.
Chris Shaheen and his cousin Elias Shaheen focused on the Lebanese dishes when they opened Pita’z Mediterranean and American Cuisine. They first opened in downtown Cedar Rapids, but had to close after just a few months because of the Floods of 2008. Pita’z is now open at 1057 N. Center Point Rd., Hiawatha, and is primarily run by Elias Shaheen.
Chris Shaheen, meanwhile, opened Third Street Convenience, a liquor store in downtown Cedar Rapids. He would always hear from customers that they wanted a diner downtown, he said, so he decided that’s what he would open. After the liquor store closed, he spent a year traveling, and whenever he posted food photos from his travels and people commented on them, he took note to bring those dishes to the new restaurant he was planning. He said he wanted to open a place that served breakfast all day, with comfort food like pancakes and tenderloins.
“I basically copied my parents’ restaurant, and added a few things they wouldn’t let me put on the menu there,” Shaheen said with a laugh.
Those extra items include loaded hot dogs, like an elote dog topped with Mexican street corn, mayonnaise and cotija cheese, and bananas foster waffles, which he doesn’t set on fire but does drown in a brown sugar and margarine sauce.
In addition to his regular menu, Shaheen runs specials and has weekly features like Taco Tuesdays. He plans to include Lebanese dishes in his specials rotation soon. He said Pita’z uses ingredients such as spices, chickpeas and tahini imported from Lebanon, via Chicago, and he wants to have the same quality for any specials he runs at Food Factory. This winter he plans to feature things like kafta — spiced ground beef with potatoes and tomato sauce, served with rice — and kibbe, fried stuffed meatballs.
“It’s comfort food, basically,” he said.
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He opened in September but had to close a few times due to issues with equipment and with the building, which was previously leased by Harold’s Chicken. Now, he’s hoping to reintroduce himself to downtown. Eventually, he would like to be open 24 hours a day to catch people leaving bars, late night customers at the DoubleTree next door and perhaps third-shift factory workers. He chose the name Food Factory in part as an homage to nearby Quaker Oats, he said.
The name also doesn’t limit him to a certain kind of cuisine, he said.
“It’s fun messing around in the kitchen. I like creating new dishes,” he said. “Cooking is kind of a stress reliever.”
If you go
• What: The Food Factory
• Where: 200 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
• Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
• Details: (319) 449-4096
Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org