It was the love of the community that brought Michel Shehadeh to Bend, but it was a passion for the food that convinced him to jettison his career in San Francisco and open a restaurant in downtown.
Recently Shehadeh’s Mazza Bistro joined a small but growing number of ethnic restaurants that are helping to diversify the food scene here and fortify the city’s reputation as a dining, as well as an outdoor recreation, destination.
With a menu based largely on traditional family recipes that were given to Shehadeh by his grandmother when he was a boy growing up in Jordan, the dishes are both authentic and eclectic. Offerings will look familiar to diners who are familiar with Kebaba, Joolz and other Middle Eastern restaurants in Bend and beyond. Lamb, chicken and beef shawarma wraps and plates make up the bulk of the menu with traditional side dishes like hummus and baba ganoush available.
Prices are on the high side for grab and go lunches with the lamb shwerma at close to $10 and served a la carte. However, Shehadeh and his staff, which includes his wife Maxine and youngest son Rami, don’t skimp on quantity. On a recent visit, my dining companion and I ordered the shawarma wraps with a side of baba ganoush served with warm flat bread. We both brought home half of our wraps, which are deliberately served in two portions for that very reason.
Mazza offers traditional Middle Eastern salads and spicy Zatar fries as a la carte items and diners have their choice of tahini or garlic yogurt sauce on their wraps.
We both opted for the yogurt sauce, which added a nice flavor and texture to the wraps that were stuffed with generous slices of chicken and beef cut from traditional vertical roasting spits as we waited.
While orders are placed at the counter, the food was brought out to our table and the staff was quick to refill our warm flat bread plate at no charge, which we promptly scarfed down under thick swipes of baba ganoush garnished with a delicious Middle Eastern pickle.
Shehadeh said Mazza wanted to offer diners the convenience of counter orders with the personal touch of tableside service at both lunch and dinner.
The approach offers the staff a chance to interact with customers and glean some valuable feedback about the food. Some of those suggestions have turned into menu tweaks. It’s all part of the evolution that Shehadeh has in mind for Mazza, which he said will remain rooted in tradition, but isn’t immune to innovation and experimentation.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s my grandmother’s recipes, but I also add my own touches. Tradition does not stop evolving; it becomes my kids tradition,” Shehadeh said.
It’s been a long journey from Jordan to Bend for Shehadeh who left his home country just after high school to attend university in the United States.
After graduating with a degree in journalism and a master’s in public policy from Cal State, Shehadeh embarked on a career that included stints in the magazine and film industry. Still, he couldn’t shake his passion for food and purchased an Italian restaurant in Anaheim, which he operated for several years. Shehadeh sold the business and was working as the director of a non-profit arts and culture organization in the Bay Area and commuting from Bend when he decided to take the plunge again.
He didn’t have to look beyond his own kitchen for menu inspiration.
“We sat down and talked and looked at what Bend needs and can offer. We love Bend and we thought the best thing we can do is to take our kitchen and the way we cook and eat at home and turn it into a restaurant,” Shehadeh said.
After looking around for several months, they settled on the former Pita Pit location on Brooks Street and embarked on a multi-month remodel.
The short-term plan is to get Mazza running smoothly and busily. The long-term plan is to take the model and duplicate it in multiple locations. Whether that happens depends on how customers receive the flagship location.
“You never know—the dream is big, but we’re focusing right now on this one and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Shehadeh said.
Photo taken by Erin Foote Marlowe.
806 NW Brooks St. #110
Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 11a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sun. Noon – 7 p.m.