Meet Joey Khalife, the General Manager of Fresh Bites, a family-owned and operated restaurant in Tampa Florida. Joey’s parents, Samir and Anissa Khalife, opened their restaurant in 2012 to provide their community an authentic Lebanese dining experience while only using the highest quality ingredients available, including Niman Ranch. Every meal the Khalife family makes is guaranteed to have the same level of authenticity and flavor as if it were made in their hometown of Jbeil, Lebanon.
Let’s take a moment to learn more about Fresh Bites and this wonderful family.
Q&A with General Manager, Joey Khalife of Fresh Bites
Q: Tell me about you and your family.
A: My father and mother are from Jbeil, Lebanon – one of the oldest cities known to man– and food is a very big part of life there. They immigrated from Lebanon to the United States in the 80’s.
My parents were always holding festivities and cooking. Before Fresh Bites, my father was in the granite business for 32 years, and through that, we moved from Northern California to Tampa to build Shriner’s Hospital. Unfortunately, in the economic crash of 2008, he had lost everything, including his business.
Even though it was unfortunate, we’re blessed because through that and his solid skills, he said, let’s go ahead and open a restaurant. He brought back the traditional Lebanese values and had the whole family get involved in the business. The entire family was cooking, growing our own herbs and vegetables, all while using the best quality meat you can find.
Q: Explain Fresh Bites to someone who has never visited.
A: The whole concept around Fresh Bites is that it’s a family owned and operated restaurant. When you walk in, you’ll see my three younger sisters, my mother, and my father every single day serving and talking to everyone. We wanted an atmosphere that felt like you were walking in the front door of our house and into our kitchen. Our goal at Fresh Bites is to provide the same home environment all while providing local produce whenever possible and serving classic, authentic dishes using Niman Ranch lamb and beef.
Q: Did you always want to be a part of the family business?
A: Ever since I was about four or five years old, I started going to jobs with my dad. Watching him lead and install granite in these huge multi-residential complexes with 30 other guys, was truly unbelievable and it made me want to stay in the family business. I love being with my family and the amount of wisdom that we share is more than any other college degree or any person could give to me right now.
Q: Why do you serve Niman Ranch?
A: When Fresh Bites was opening, my father was searching for the best meat he could provide to our customers, who are like an extension of our family. Through all the research, he found Niman Ranch.
You just can’t beat Niman Ranch’squality. Coming from Lebanon, it’s very, very hard to find meat remotely similar in the states. That’s why we’ve been using Niman Ranch for so long. I’ve had lamb in many countries and the lamb that you get from Niman Ranch is some of the best I’ve ever had, that includes the beef, which has marbling out of this world.
With Niman Ranch lamb, you don’t have to do anything special or fancy to it. Customers are continually asking why isn’t this lamb gamey? What do you do? I tell them, nothing, it’s just the quality of the lamb. I will never go to anyone else.
Q: What inspired you to care about sustainability and humanely raised beef, pork and lamb raised by family farmers?
A: It’s not only an aspect of the flavor, the food–it’s morality as well. We want to help small independent family farms and businesses who aren’t going to damage our planet. We want to support family farmers because, like us, they are a family-owned and operated business.
Q: Where do you see Fresh Bites in five or 10 years?
A: Fresh Bites is such a staple in our community. I see the joy that it brings to my family and our community, and I feel like it’s in my hands to take Fresh Bites to the next level. I hope I can replicate that same joy in every other community in the world, while still retaining the values that we established seven years ago.
Q: What person would you most like to cook for the most?
A: My grandpa. He was trained under chef Paul Bocuse, the famous French chef, and my grandpa was the apprentice to him. Although he is no longer with us, he was such a respectful man and I would love to be able to have him sit down for dinner and show him what we can do.
Q: What’s your favorite item on the menu at Fresh Bites?
A: I would have to say it’s the kafta kebab and a fattoush. It’s usually my go-to meal every single night.
Q: What do you love most about your job at Fresh Bites?
A: Just the whole entire vibe, the whole nine yards. I’m working with my family, meeting new people, and seeing people come in, who are happy and smiling. I mean, it doesn’t get better than this, you know?