A Q and A with Margaret and Joe Andraos owners of The Mediterranean
150 W Gay St
Q: How long have you been in West Chester?
A: Well, it will be 12 years this October; the first weekend of October is our anniversary.
Q: Why West Chester? Were you both here?
A: No, I was born and raised in the Philly suburbs and went to college in Philly. I met Joe in high school, he lived in my neighborhood, we happened to know the same people and we ended up together.
Q: Have you both always cooked?
A: I made my first Thanksgiving meal when I was 11-years old (almost 12).
Q: Did you decide to open a restaurant together when you got married?
A: We ran a swim club for eight years and when I met him all of his family were in the pizza business and he had worked for his uncle for 10 years. He and his brothers were looking to do a pizza shop and I wasn’t too enthralled by doing a pizza shop, but we ended up looking for something for five and a half years before we bought the building for the restaurant and then we did renovations.
Joe grew up in Lebanon in the construction business so we didn’t want to rent anything for our first business. We wanted to buy a building and renovate it and have some sort of a food business in it.
Q: Had you always wanted to do this style of menu?
A: Joe wanted to have a quick, easy, take-out place with brick oven pizza and gyro sandwiches like he used to get in the Middle Eastern pita shops. But, we never found a place that suited that for us so when we found this building we fell in love. I said it would make a cute restaurant but forget about the take out restaurant. If he wanted to do a restaurant I’d be on board, if he wanted to do a pizza shop, I told him to have fun.
So, that’s how we ended up with the concept. We’ve made changes over the last 12 years but it’s very similar to what it was when we first opened. A few months after we bought the building I knew what the menu would be but it took us three years to open it.
When it came to doing the menu, I am not culinary school trained and neither is Joe but how we both learned to cook was while growing up. I was raised Italian and was always into the food community. Joe was raised Lebanese and what we create together is a fusion of what we both made and learned at home.
Q: What was town like 12 years ago?
A: At the time West Gay Street was pretty quiet and lots of buildings were for sale that were affordable. This was the first property that we had ever actually bought. I’ve seen a lot of places come and go and it’s hard to see the older places that were here when were started, close. There is a different scene here now, a lot more drink-focused restaurants.
Q: Tell me about the food that you put out for your guests.
A: When it comes to what we make at the restaurant it’s like what we make at home. I had always loved food but when I met Joe I became really interested in the Middle Eastern foods, and I always liked good, fresh foods and was always impressed with the way Joe ate.
Q: Who takes lead in the kitchen?
A: When I’m there, me; when I’m not there Joe. We cook together but I’m more of the creative one. He has become more creative but we are both very back and forth people. When he did construction I ran the restaurant. We are a good team like that. I had four kids before we bought the property. Since we’ve had the restaurant I’ve had two children, we restored our house and we purchased another property as well as restoring it all while running the restaurant.
Q: You’re really a tag team at home and at the restaurant?
A: Well, lately, I’ve had more time to focus on the restaurant. When I was pregnant, I’d prep before I’d have the babies and I would be back in 2 weeks after giving birth to make sure everything was running smoothly. But now Joe is much more involved. It’s good for me to do different things and I actually like doing different things.
Sometimes when I’m laying a floor or painting a wall I can think out things I want to make at the restaurant. If I spend too many hours in the kitchen it becomes more stale so when I’m involved with other things I can see more clearly what I want to do at The Mediterranean.
Q: Most popular dishes on the menu?
A: The lamb kabobs, hummus, falafel and lentils are popular. For desserts, the apple pie (my mother’s recipe) and the baklava are very popular. The baklava is my own spin on it. It is almost like it’s made in Lebanon but there are a couple ingredients I put in that they don’t.
Q: Do you support the local food movement.
A: Honestly, very little of our food comes to our restaurant in a truck. I spend hours driving around getting my supplies. I’ve always had local farms that I get food from and in season I go to my neighbor who grows his own. As soon as I moved out to Chester County I found where all the local food is and I’ve been going to the growers market every Saturday. I’ve been lucky to find all of the products I need: apples, honey, eggs, etc. I use local eggs from Wickersham Farm in Pocopson and I make the yogurt from local milk as well as growing lots of fresh herbs that I use from my garden.
Q: That is great news. So not only are you supporting the local producers you’re giving us all healthy food too?
A: In my opinion we are the healthiest restaurant in West Chester. I don’t use butter and it’s not in our dishes unless it’s a dairy dish. I can accommodate people with allergies and special diets. I don’t use nuts in my pesto, we use healthy oils and we are cooking as healthy as we can. I cook for our guests as I would cook for my family in the best sense. Meaning that I am looking out for their health and making delicious food.
We only do wild seafood. We don’t use any farm raised seafood and we pay top dollar; our seafood supplier will even tell you that we spend more then anyone else in town and I don’t even let him deliver it because I need to see it, look at it and smell it myself to make sure it’s good enough for our customers.
Oh yeah, we even got rid of our soda machine. We brew our own iced tea, lemonade and we are a BYOB.
Q: How many seats do you have at the restaurant?
A: We seat 43 but we are bigger than people think because we have the upstairs dining room.
Q: What do you want people to think when they eat your food?
A: I want people know it’s really good for them, it tastes good, and they can feel comfortable here. A funny thing is that when people come here they love what they get the first time so much that they never want to branch out to try something new because they love the first thing so much. We will also make special requests for menu items and I want customers to know that we focus on the food. So many places in town have made so much of their money on alcohol and we work extremely hard every day to ensure that the food is great every time. I’m a seasonal chef and it’s just starting to get good. I collect local ingredients and then create my specials around that.
Q: What can we look for the future?
A: I’m writing a book with stories about my first encounters with food, and then my thoughts on food and the journey of food from the farm to the table. It will be awhile until it comes out but keep an eye out for it.
Q: Anything else?
A: We work really hard for a living, but we are doing something different because we focus on the food. We are the only place you can get real Lebanese food outside of Philadelphia. We are not Greek, we are Lebanese and it’s a family business; a small family oriented place with lots of love.