Around Town

Family-owned Lebanese restaurant closes for good in Vienna

Zenola founder and executive chef Samer Zeitoun prepares a dish (via Zenola)

Zenola has permanently closed its kitchen in Vienna.

The Lebanese restaurant announced on Friday (July 21) that its owners, the Zeitoun family, had “made the difficult decision to close” after more than three years in Danor Plaza at 132 Branch Road SE.

“Our family-owned restaurant has been a place where friends and families gathered to share laughter, stories, and break bread,” the Zeitoun family and Zenola team said in a message to supporters. “It has been an honor to be part of your lives, to witness your special occasions, and to create a warm and welcoming environment for everyone who walked through our doors.”

Commenters on the restaurant’s Facebook page expressed sorrow at the news, with more than one person saying Zenola was one of their favorite places to eat.

“We will miss you a lot! No more spinach pies or chicken livers,” one person said. “I’m so sorry it had to come to this. Wishing the Zeitoun family and Zenola team all the best in the future.”

Opened on Sept. 6, 2019, Zenola began as a way for executive chef and founder Samer Zeitoun to put his own spin on the Lebanese dishes of his childhood by mixing them with a broader range of Mediterranean flavors.

Menu items included various grilled meats, pan-seared black bass, vegetarian lasagna, Lebanese shepherd’s pie, hummus spreads and wood-grilled Spanish octopus.

Keeping a restaurant in business was never easy, but it has proven especially difficult since COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early 2020. An estimated 70,000 restaurants closed permanently as a result of the hardships created by the pandemic.

In the Town of Vienna, casualties have ranged from hopeful newcomers to long-standing establishments, like 40-year-old Amphora Restaurant.

Zenola said its decision to close was fueled by a combination of factors, including the “lasting business effects of the COVID pandemic, increasingly higher rent payments with little landlord flexibility and the changing landscape of the restaurant industry.”

A request for comment sent to the restaurant’s email didn’t get a response by press time.

Despite its relatively short stay in Vienna, the Zenola team said they had formed lasting memories and strong connections with the local community, describing patrons and staff as “an extended family.”

“We cannot express enough how grateful we are for your loyalty and for choosing us as your go-to spot for celebrations, casual dinners, and even those quiet moments when you needed a comforting meal,” the message said. “We will forever cherish the memories created within these walls and the relationships forged through shared meals and conversations.”

Encouraging patrons to continue supporting small businesses, the Zeitoun family said they are “taking some time to rest and regroup,” but they’re hopeful that Zenola may return in some form in the future.

“We hope to find a way to continue offering Zenola menu favorites in a different format in the months ahead,” the team said.