Royal Oak's Beirut Palace restaurant to close, cites parking

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
Pedestrians on Main Street cross West Third St. with the Center Street parking deck in the background in Royal Oak.

Royal Oak — Another longtime Main Street restaurant is moving out of downtown Royal Oak, blaming a downturn in business prompted by the elimination of parking spaces by a $58 million city hall project.

The Beirut Palace, a Lebanese restaurant in town for 21 years, announced Monday it will be closing at its current address and reopening in a location still to be determined.

A Middle Eastern restaurant will continue to operate at the location at Second Street but it will have a different name and operator and the “Beirut Palace” sign will come down, said owner Hussein “Sam” Ahmad.

Ahmad said he planned to make a formal announcement at the Royal Oak City Commission meeting Monday night “to thank all his old customers for their support over the years" and ask officials to "do more for your taxpayers, they deserve it.”

“I cannot continue to operate here — I can’t afford to put food on my own table for my family,” said Ahmad, who cited a 30 percent decline in business following a loss of city surface parking spots next to his restaurant.

A large parking area between the current city hall and Main Street was torn up as part of a city center project to eventually make room for a five-story parking structure; a multi-floor office building to be occupied by Henry Ford Hospital System; green space and the relocation of the existing city hall and police station across Troy Street near the Farmers Market.

In a news release, Ahmad cited several factors for the decision, including loss of parking, aggressive vehicle ticketing by the city parking enforcement department and "an uncommunicative and uncooperative city manager, mayor and city commission."

Mayor Michael Fournier responded: "Much of the release is not true. The city has jumped on concerns from businesses regarding parking and resolved 100 percent of them. It's interesting that (Ahmad) is leaving but someone else is bullish enough on Royal Oak to buy him out and take over his spot."

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Ahmad said he decided to leave when he found an opportunity to sell the restaurant assets and get out of his lease while keeping the Beirut Palace brand. He will reopen a new restaurant in a new location with convenient parking in the near future, he said.

“Our sales kept dropping throughout the summer up to 50 percent recently,” he said. “We also noticed a huge difference in our carry-out business. Whether a guest was here for dine-in or carry-out, they complain that they had to circle many blocks because they couldn’t find parking,”

Ahmad is following the lead of Andiamo restaurant, which shuttered in July after 20 years on Main Street. Its owner, Joe Vicari, also cited loss of parking for the decision to close.

On Aug. 30, B-Spot Burgers, also on Main Street, closed without notice and last month nearby Qdoba chose not to renew its lease.

The owner of Dixie Moon Saloon and Little Tree Sushi — also along Main Street —complained of similar losses.

Fournier and other city officials said they expected some business turnover to result from the city center project.

"We knew businesses would move on, and it's a little sad, but reality is it's part of the process, with new ones eager to come in: Restaurants. A hotel. Others," Fournier said. "And they are spending lots of money to do it. The new (parking) structure will be operating by next June. Until then, there are thousands of spaces in the downtown for parking."

Commissioner Kim Gibbs suspects other businesses may leave downtown as well because of parking troubles.

"The project has caused a business slowdown for many," Gibbs said.

"It's unfortunate, but we knew before a shovel went into the ground this would be a painful process, and it's probably going to get worse," city commissioner Randy LaVasseur said Monday. " ... Shuttles from parking structures might help but we don't have them yet."

Critics have been angered by a no-bid contract and $5 million cash incentive granted to the Boji developer to do the project. The Take Back Royal Oak Coalition of businesses and property owners recently held a fundraiser at the Dixie Moon Saloon to challenge city plans. 

Ahmad said he doesn’t have an answer but believes the city could be doing more, perhaps providing a shuttle from one of its parking lots to take customers to and from downtown businesses at night, especially with cold weather and winter on the way.

“The late night bar business does well down here but I don’t have a liquor license and have tried to develop good food for people,” Ahmad said. “People will even drive around looking for a parking space but if they find a meter they have to worry that if they don’t get back to it in time they will find a ticket on their car.

“That happens to someone and they get angry and just go somewhere else.”

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