Cedars of Lebanon, trailblazing Salt Lake City Middle Eastern restaurant, to close after 38 years in business

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cedars of Lebanon restaurant on Friday, May 24, 2019. The restaurant is closing after 38 years.

Cedars of Lebanon — believed to be the first Lebanese/Armenian restaurant in Salt Lake City — will close after 38 years in business.

Owners Raffi and Marlen Daghlian say June 8 will be the final day of service at their Middle Eastern restaurant at 152 E. 200 South. The couple plan to go into semiretirement — continuing to operate a catering business and Daghlian Rugs at 2364 S. Main St.

The Daghlians already have leased the restaurant space to the local franchise owner of Curry Up Now, a fast-casual restaurant chain from San Francisco. That eatery is expected to open this winter and will also house the company’s bar concept, Mortar & Pestle.

Curry Up Now, which will open its first Utah location this fall in Midvale, is known for its twist on Indian food, including tikka masala burritos, Indian-style quesadillas — dubbed “Quesadillix” — and deconstructed samosas.

The 100 East section of 200 South has become a dining/drinking hub in recent years with Bar X, Beer Bar, Johnny’s on Second and Taqueria 27 located across the street from Cedars. Campos Coffee Roastery and Kitchen opened last year around the corner on Edison Street.

But Cedars of Lebanon has been an anchor since 1981. Back then, while attending the University of Utah, Raffi Daghlian opened his tiny restaurant, using recipes from his childhood in Lebanon. At the time, the Middle Eastern food was considered exotic for Utah palates.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cedars of Lebanon restaurant on Friday, May 24, 2019. The restaurant is closing after 38 years.

The restaurant has changed through the years, starting small and, at one time, including a deli.

Several years ago, when the landlord wanted to sell the building, the Daghlians bought it and expanded, moving the main dining room to the west side of the building and using the east side to create the Moroccan-inspired Casbah Room, with plush couches.

Belly dancers have always performed on the weekends.

Like most family-run businesses, the Daghlians’ three children have worked alongside their parents. Since their extended families lived far away, said Marlen, “our customers ended up being friends and family.”

Earlier this week, when the Daghlians announced the closure of their restaurant on social media, dozens of customers posted memories of first dates, birthdays and anniversaries where they enjoyed the restaurant’s mix of Lebanese, Moroccan, Armenian and Greek foods.

“My husband and I went on our first date there 10 years ago,” one diner wrote. “We’ve gone back for several anniversaries since then.”

“Great family. Great restaurant," wrote another. “Sad to see it go.”

Former employees have reached out, too. One, who now lives Turkey, called to wish the Daghlians well in retirement. Another said she would fly in from Arizona before the closure to say goodbye.

Of course, many longtime patrons have stopped in for one last dish of the lamb tagine and the chicken pastilla — a savory Moroccan pie — just two of the specialties at Cedars of Lebanon.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Marlen, of the outpouring of love. “We knew it would be.”

She said part of the restaurant’s success was its consistency, due mostly to having the same chef for 33 years. The Daghlians’ willingness to share their Middle Eastern culture and hospitality also played a role.

“We loved the people and wanted to please them,” she said, noting that it wasn’t unusual for someone who may have traveled to the Middle East to request something that wasn’t on the menu. “We’d go out of our way to make it for them."

In return, the restaurant had a steady stream of customers, who seemed to thirst for the Middle Eastern flavors and spices.

“Loyal customers,” she said, “that’s who kept us in business.”