Ali Alkasti is the owner/operator of Sahara Delight, a new Middle Eastern restaurant in downtown Lansing. Alkasti comes from a culinary family, and has worked in local restaurants for 22 years.
Last week I told you about Sahara Delight, a new Middle Eastern restaurant that had a sneak premiere at Silver Bells in the City earlier this month. This week, the new eatery will have its first full week of business in downtown Lansing, pursuing the builtin lunch crowd of downtown workers.
“We’ve already had a lot of people discover us, and I’m starting to see people coming back,” said owner/operator Ali Alkasti. “I think it’s a good sign.” Alkasti, who comes from a family of cooks, has been working in local kitchens since he arrived in Lansing from Lebanon 22 years ago. He said he uses his mother’s recipes and makes everything from scratch with no preservatives, using imported spices and the freshest local meat and vegetable options he can get his hands on. His wife, Salma Alkasti, is the restaurant’s only other cook. “This is basically what people eat at home in Lebanon,” Alkasti said. “It’s familiar, familystyle food.”
And it’s something that American diners have become increasingly familiar with as well.
Sahara Delight is the third Middle Eastern restaurant in as many blocks in the downtown market, joining Sultan’s Express, 305 S. Washington Square, and Aladdin’s Express, 208 S. Washington Square. When asked what he plans to do to stand out from the others, Alkasti shrugged. “To be honest, it’s pretty much the same food, but it’s good, it’s healthy, and it’s fast, which is what I think really matters to people,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to be taking customers away from anyone. This is just another option for the people who live and work downtown. There are lots of people coming downtown to eat.” Alkasti’s optimism may come in handy. Last month, Greek-American restaurant Lou & Harry’s quietly vacated that space after a three-year run, with owner Scott Rolen citing a challenging environment as the reason for leaving. “The area was tough and foot traffic had decreased a lot over the last couple years on the weekdays,” Rolen said. “And the weekends were completely gone now that a lot of the bar/restaurants left. We still stayed busy Monday to Friday, but we just thought maybe to focus our energy.” Rolen, who licensed the Lou & Harry’s name from franchise founder Harry Saites, hinted that he may open another location in the future somewhere in the area. But for now he plans to concentrate on his other restaurant, Lou & Harry’s Bar & Grill, which he co-owns/ operates with Saites at 211 E. Grand River Ave. in downtown East Lansing. Interestingly, the East Lansing Lou & Harry’s took over the digs of Woody’s Oasis Bar & Grill, a Middle Eastern bar/restaurant that had been there for 15 years and had been a popular watering hole. Alkasti said he has no plans to add a liquor license, but will just focus on the food. He said his chicken shawarma is his number one seller, but also takes pride in his Lebanese sausage, which he makes in-house himself. “My wife and I cook everything every day from scratch,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s the reason why I’m focusing on weekdays and staying closed on weekends. Whatever doesn’t get eaten every day gets thrown away. And I hate to throw away food.”
119 S. Washington Square, Lansing
10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday- Friday; closed Saturday- Sunday (517) 763-2560