Underneath Dolly Raad-Awkwar’s Arabic textbooks and exam copies, hides an extremely successful business woman. Lately, when she is not teaching her students, you can find Dolly at 298 King St. tirelessly perfecting every single detail of her new Lebanese restaurant, Leyla.
In the 10 years she has been in Charleston, Dolly has transformed from rug seller to Arabic professor to restaurant owner. Her ascension within the Charleston community comes to no surprise, considering her impressively eclectic life and career. As an executive, Dolly has travelled the world for negotiations and continues to educate herself. She speaks multiple languages and even took Hebrew classes at the College. Of all of her achievements, she says she is most proud of “having overcome all the adversities in life and coming out with a positive attitude.”
A true fighter, Dolly has survived war and moving far away from her home in Lebanon. In an interview, Dolly became emotional as she remembered all the hardships she has endured, and the wonderful family she created in spite of it all.
One might wonder, why open a restaurant in a city already overflowing with culinary options? Dolly argues that truly authentic Arabic cuisine, specifically Lebanese, is missing from Charleston’s international food scene.
Even with all the exotic Middle Eastern dishes it offers, Leyla is completely authentic, down to the Lebanese imported olive oil the chef uses. The restaurant prides itself on importing all its produce straight from Lebanon, even its chef. Leyla’s talented chef and internationally known singer, Lebanese Vatche Meguerdichian is a well- established Los Angeles chef with a reputation that precedes him. His five page menu includes a wide array of options, including: vegetarian, gluten-free, fat-free, meat-lovers and “adventurous territory” such as lamb tongue and frog legs. Needless to say, Leyla and its staff are committed to the quality of its dishes and the satisfaction of its customers.
Perhaps subconsciously, Dolly’s professorial nature took over when designing the restaurant. From its chic and relaxing ambiance to the 10 percent off discount Dolly plans to implement for college students, Leyla could not cater more to the College of Charleston community. A particularly attractive offer will prove to be the $8 lunch special of a sandwich and side with the possibility of carry out.
With the help of ML design, Dolly and her husband created what she calls a casual yet “quiet, modern and elegant” atmosphere perfect for an intimate date, a nice family dinner, a relaxing sit down with some friends or even a soothing meal alone – away from the chaos of campus. Unique and quaint in its style, Leyla is what Dolly refers to as a “boutique” restaurant. As for recommendations, Shawarma, which consists of spiced meat marinated, stacked and then spit-roasted, is a college-student favorite in Lebanon, and it is quickly becoming one in Charleston.
Though Leyla is her latest endeavor, Dolly’s “mission is to teach.” It is specifically her passion for transmitting and expressing her culture that led her to open her extremely anticipated Lebanese restaurant, Leyla. Always at the top of her class, Dolly has a particular respect for the importance of education. She says, “I feel that education is the basis of any society; all progress starts with education.”
She claims that her Lebanese origins influence her way of thinking, and that “Lebanon is different, so I am different. It is a country that was the bridge between East and West. We have Middle Eastern traditions and customs, but yet we have open minds to western civilization, and that is what makes us different.” Her small town roots from rural Southern Lebanon have inspired her to open students and people’s minds to diversity and to share her rich culture. When asked about Arabic specifically, Dolly says, “There is a misconception about the Middle East, and who we are.” Whether it is through taking one of her classes or visiting Leyla, Dolly is happy to share her Lebanese culture and experiences with others.