Zarzour's Café

Acting as a donation hub for over a century, today they’re collecting donations for local homeless shelters in Chattanooga, TN

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00:04 We make everything here but money. You know, but sometimes that's not necessarily all of it. It really isn't.

00:39 Well, Dixie, we're so excited to talk with you today, so you run Zarzour's which is almost an almost 104 year old cafe in Chattanooga?

00:49 That it is. The oldest in the state of Tennessee, nobody's been able to beat us at this yet so we'll see.

00:55 Oh, you, think about all that you've survived, right? You made it through the Spanish Flu, Covid, and the pandemic. I mean the stories from the tavern are incredible. So can you take us back to the beginning and talk about the founding of the cafe back in 1918?

01:10 Family is very important to us here at Zarzour's. My great grandfather came to this country back in, I believe it was 1902 or 1903, and came into NY from Beirut, Lebanon. Zarzour's is Lebanese. And when he got to Chattanooga he started looking around and found this little spot here, and he started out selling peanut brittle in front of the restaurant out on the sidewalk. A little set of scales and a brass hammer and he broke peanut brittle up.

Then my Aunt Rose was born, you know, and she said 'Daddy we ought to sell some food, maybe burgers or sandwiches'. So from that it just evolved into what it is now, so it started out with my great grandfather, then my Aunt Rose had it, the my mother had it, and now since 2015, my wife Shannon and I - we own Zarzour's, yeah. And we're going to continue this, we're not closing up on my watch, I can tell you. Whoever ends up with it after me, they can do what they want to do. But this is what we're doing.

02:05 Dixie, I want to pick on something you mentioned. You said family is really important to you and that is big for you, and, when you talk with customer's that have been to Zarzour's, and have eaten at your cafe and your restaurant, they talk about the family atmosphere. Where did that inspiration come from?

02:22 You know, one thing I always try to stress to people, especially newcomers, and I always tell them, 'You know what? We've been waiting for you for 104 years and we're really glad you showed up, you know? Glad you all made it.' But, it's, that's how proud we are of this little restaurant. This only has ten tables and four counter seats. After this many years family is important and we want everybody who comes here to realize that that is a key element here. It really is.

02:50 You don't just make great hamburgers and great food, and create this great environment for everyone. But you really, at the core of your mission, it's about giving back. Can you talk a little bit about what you do for the local homeless community?

03:02 Yes. Yes, this dates all the way back in to the mid to late 1960's. My grandfather, Abe Zarzour, he was a big baseball player here in Chattanooga. He loved baseball and so what he did was, he used to collect baseball bats, gloves, masks, you know, whatever it took, and he would donate those things to the Boys Club here in Chattanooga. And even after my grandfather passed they kept bringing stuff to my mother, here are Zarzour's. But anyway, uh, my wife Shannon, she is really into a couple of things here.

There are several homeless camps, and I'm sure there it's the same in all of your cities, uh, out there. And, you know, you know, a lot of people are just one paycheck away from from being homeless. And so Zarzour's, being an old establishment here in Chattanooga, is a great drop off place for, whether it be donations or whether it be food goods, whatever those camps need, uh, blankets, coats, any of that stuff. This is a big drop off point for that.

04:02 You talked about the importance that Zarzour's has in the community and in the past couple of years our communities have been challenged with the pandemic and Covid, and I know cafes and restaurants have been hit particularly hard. How has that impacted your business and how have you adapted through that?

04:20 To a great degree, it did. And what we did is, we closed the main, so nobody can actually come in and sit down and eat and enjoy their lunch in here. Uh, we did take-out burgers and fries, to go only. And I did curb service and we delivered, which is something we'd never done. More so, I got into the delivery business which now I'm gonna have to do it the rest of my life. So anyway, yeah, we still do that. 

But we downsized, but we never closed. We kept it open to some degree. I'm a big fan of social media and I know that you guys certainly are, but we just like to keep everybody informed to what we're doing. I got my shots as soon as I could legally them, I've already had my booster, and I try to tell the people who can to get them because I think it's the safest thing. And I think it's a good message to send out, especially if you're a restaurant owner and you have people coming in and out of here. So we followed all the rules to a 'T' and let everybody know they should be doing the same. And that's just how things work.

When my great grandfather and my great grandmother were here in 1918, she actually died of the Spanish Flu of 1918 so we've come full circle. We've actually been impacted twice by a pandemic. And it's surviving, thank goodness. But man, who saw this coming? Who would have ever dreamed of it. But once again, another reason just to give something back to your community and do things to make people feel better, do things to make people happy, you know, things that we might need.

06:03 I can see the passion and how important you are to the community. And I'll say, on of the things that Truist believes in is how important small businesses are to the communities. They are essentially the backbone of our communities and I think about your business, in particular, how important it is and how important it is for customer's to support businesses like yours.

06:24 We're not big, we don't blow our own horn a lot, you know. When something really good happens here we certainly want people to know about it, and we want to let people know what we're doing. But I'm tickled to death. I don't really want, I've been all over the world and I've seen everything I want to see. This is perfect for me right now. So if I can take what's left of me and give something back, I think that's an important thing.