Thayer Street’s most consistent quality is that of constant change. Anyone who’s traversed its sidewalks regularly has seen a host of shops come and go, sometimes booming and busting faster than the nearby universities’ graduation cycles. Nevertheless, one of the thoroughfare’s few mainstays, Kartabar, defies that trend. Founding owner Philippe Maatouk has held court there for what amounts to a century in restaurant years, with no sign of stopping. Read on for what he shared about his restaurant’s endurance, the story behind the menu and what we’d spy inside his refrigerator.
You’ve been in operation roughly 15 years. What explains Kartabar’s lasting power?
Number one, I’m always there, day and night. Second, I treat every customer as a VIP. But in the end, there’s not one or two things that will make you successful. Whether it’s the glassware or the music or the food, everything has to be cared for. It’s a total package.
How did you get into this mad industry?
When I came here from Lebanon, I didn’t have a degree in something. But I knew hospitality from my culture and my family. I knew food and I knew how to welcome people. After I immigrated, I taught myself English, and I taught myself the business, and that was that. My first shop was called Hot Pockets, which I ran out of the building where the Urban Outfitters is now on Thayer Street. That lasted from 1989 to 2000, and then I started Kartabar in 2001.
One last question. What would people be surprised to find in your home refrigerator?
[Laughs] Fruit. Tons of fruit. And lots of juice. I’m around food all the time as part of the trade, so I don’t actually eat much on my own!
284 Thayer Street, Providence
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