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February 12, 2010 at 2:55 PM

Phoenecia now open on Alki: same family, new approach

Last summer, Hussein Khazaal’s family mourned the loss of the gregarious West Seattle restaurateur whose familiar face and Mediterranean menu were fixtures on Alki Beach since 1992. That “family” extended from blood relations to the many customers he adored and embraced since opening the original Phoenecia in the Alaska Junction in 1973.

When Khazaal died in his sleep after another busy night at Phoenecia at Alki, the fate of his restaurant was uncertain. In the months since, his widow and children made the decision to carry on with the family business by breathing new life into the old place, as reported in the West Seattle Blog. Today, the next generation has taken over where their doting dad left off.

It’s a family affair. From left, Inaam Khazaal and her children, Sonya, William and Nadia.

“About two months after he passed I decided we should try to reopen, but I wanted to do it differently,” said William Khazaal, who, with his mother and sisters, threw open the doors to the new Phoenecia on January 28. Under his father’s direction, Phoenecia “wasn’t a high-volume place, and it was spendy. A table of four had a hard time getting out of there for less than $200, and they could easily spend more than $300.” For many patrons, “it was a special occasion place, and I wanted people to come through two or three times a week.”

With a casual, updated atmosphere in mind, remodeling was a necessity. To that end, they’ve pulled out false walls to open up the dining room, built two small bars (one seats four, the other three), striped the old carpet, stained the concrete floors, ditched the white linen, refinished the wood tabletops, reupholstered the chairs and added color to the walls as well as chalkboard paint so they might list — rather than recite — the daily specials, as dad so famously did. The menu also got a major makeover.

“My dad’s recipes were still in his head when he died, and we didn’t want to just do what he was doing. It would have been the poor man’s version.” So William — who studies finance and entrepreneurship by day at the UW’s Foster School of Business — did some market research and determined “no one’s doing tapas-style on the beach. When I go out, I like to order three or four appetizers instead of an entree, to taste more flavors.” Bingo. A new small-plates menu (priced under $10) was born.

Small plates loom large at the new Phoenecia.

Today the menu is overseen by an Australian import named Byron hired on to execute the family’s vision with an assist by Hussein’s former chef. And though pizza is ubiquitous in the neighborhood, says William, “I knew I wanted to do something with pizza. Something that was different.” Phoenecia’s pizza dough proofs for two days, the pies bake at 850-degrees and spends about two minutes in the oven, he says, noting they’re the menu item he’s most proud of.

Pizza? “Something special!” as dad would say. .

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