Risky Business

Can this man save Clematis Street?

Not at all. Simply apply one of Assad's 49 principles of business: "Work with your unique ability, and delegate the rest."

Assad concedes the competition from CityPlace is tough. The food, he says, is the dead easy part. Assad consulted with his old buddy Keith McNally, the hippest restaurateur in Manhattan, who opened that original and excellent bistro Odeon in the late '80s and who now owns Balthazar, Pastis, and the impossibly trendy Schiller's Liquor Bar. He wrote the book on French bistro cookery -- literally (The Balthazar Cookbook) -- if anybody knows how to spin a mound of pommes frites into gold, it's McNally. With advisers like this, who needs experience?

Drawing on a set of principles that range from results-oriented realism to pop-psych business babble, Assad is pushing hard to get West Palm's downtown moving. He can't do much about the roads, but as chairman of the Downtown Development Authority's Advisory Committee, he's drawn up a ten-point plan to make Clematis Street and CityPlace one culinary destination, rather than what now seem like two separate planets, each with its own language, mores, and dietary habits.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

Leila Restaurant

120 S. Dixie Highway
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: West Palm Beach

Details

Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner Monday through Wednesday 5 till 10 p.m., Thursday and Friday till 10:30, Saturday till 11. Dinner only on Sunday 5:30 till 9:30 p.m. Call 561-659-7373.
120 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach

"We're doing it slowly, store by store," he says. "My dream and my vision is to see these two areas completely merged." He has also founded the Downtown Independent Restaurant Group, a consortium of half a dozen restaurants working together to draw new customers. Their first project is to send out a map of downtown -- marking out, among other things, those impossible-to-find parking places -- to residents in a 20-mile radius of the city center. After that, they'll work on opening a downtown marketing office.

Assad spent $700,000 to open Leila. He and Dischino have put about $800,000 into renovations at L'Opera, and Assad says about $200,000 more are needed. They've staked a bundle, and so far, the results aren't clear. "We're still losing money on L'Opera," Assad admits. "It's a big place. But we'll be breaking even by February or March." The more established Leila -- which was jammed both nights we ate there, in April and May -- is, he says, already earning a profit.

Late at night, as the kitchen is closing and the last customers are drifting out of Leila in a lemon- and garlic-scented haze, you'll likely see Assad in relaxation mode on the outdoor patio, smoking a narghile -- a traditional hookah -- loaded with apple-flavored tobacco. He says the pipe is his only vice. "Look, am I overwhelmed? Would I like to work less?" he asks rhetorically. "Of course. But I also know that this can be done. People want an experience. I can imagine a time when we'll be seeing limo after limo pulling up at the restaurants downtown."

He pauses, reflecting. "Do I always want to be the pioneer? Maybe not," he says. "But I believe that leadership does matter."

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