Monday, March 3, 2008

La Shish No More

Originally published in D-Tales here; edited for content.

Popular Middle Eastern restaurant chain La Shish closed its doors yesterday. 11 metro Detroit locations, the Dearborn headquarters, and 305 employees were affected by this decision. After nearly 3 years of bad publicity and whispered ties to Hezbollah (defined by the American government as a Lebanese terrorist group), the chain finally went under due to nearly $12 million dollars in owed taxes.

When the feds raided the home and headquarters of owner Talal Chahine in April 2005 seeking evidence of tax fraud, Chahine fled the country with $20 million skimmed from the business to dodge his indictment, sticking his wife, Elfat Al Aouar, to face both the tax evasion charges as well as her own charge of immigration fraud (turns out that the marriage wasn't one based on love and committment--and I guess when you marry someone to help them get a green card, it's morally acceptable to bail on them when you're slapped with some serious federal offenses).

Since then, the restaurant chain has been at the center of some serious rumor-mongering, with the purported Hezbollah ties causing the most gasps. Just last week, El Auoar was sentenced to 90 days in jail for immigration fraud, to be served consecutively with an 18-month sentence for tax evasion. Her citizenship was, naturally, revoked. Ah, the things we'll do for love. Or, the things we'll do for a green card when your husband flees the country and leaves you standing there with a dumbfounded expression on your face as the feds raid your home.


Getting back on topic (I'm a big fan of the digressive rant), it's a shame La Shish had to close. This restaurant chain popularized Middle Eastern cuisine for the non-Middle Easterners of metro Detroit, and was quickly becoming a staple in the diet of many metro Detroiters (in the Free Press article, a woman is interviewed bemoaning her loss, saying "Now what am I going to eat?", and I know many others who will say the same). It was just one more thing that made our metro area more of a cultural melting it's just one more thing to give Detroit a bad rep.

I will miss the Fatoush, though.