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George Aboujaoude never sleeps

The longtime restaurateur on his new Back Bay restaurant, Eva; the South End’s glory days; and bad customer behavior

Restaurateur George Aboujaoude opened Eva in the Back

Newton’s George Aboujaoude, 49, grew up in the kitchen of his parents’ beloved South End restaurant, Cedars of Lebanon. Now he’s a successful restaurateur himself, running the Seaport’s Committee and Bijou Nightclub and Lounge in the Theater District. His latest project is the Back Bay’s Eva, replacing his longtime spot Cafeteria on Newbury Street. It’s got a welcoming patio, lots of shareable plates (tacos, pizzas, seafood), and an easygoing vibe. Aboujaoude got his start working in the Lansdowne Street nightclubs — and he still stays up until the wee hours, despite having two young kids.

Tell me about Eva. Contrast it a little bit with what was there before — and why this is the right restaurant at the right time.


Sure. It was opened as Cafeteria in 2007 and had a great run. Right around this time, the Seaport really started gaining steam, maybe in 2014 or 2-15 We definitely started to see the Back Bay losing a little bit of its appeal to people, a little bit less foot traffic and less dining traffic. We’re definitely seeing a change in that now, with Ken Oringer coming to Newbury Street and Contessa opening at the Newbury. We’ve been very well-received since announcing that we were reopening. I think the Back Bay is definitely ready for that shot in the arm.

We definitely have to reinvent ourselves. It’s not going to be anything close to Cafeteria or Cafeteria 2.0 or anything like that. We’re really differentiating our lunch and dinner menu. Cafeteria used to be an all-day menu. We brought over Luis Figueroa from Committee, who’s the chef de cuisine there. For dinner, we’re really concentrating on a more of a Mediterranean-inspired menu.

Your parents owned Cedars in the South End. What are your memories of Boston in that era?


It was phenomenal. My mother and father and sister came over from Lebanon, maybe two years before I was born. My father had always been in the restaurant business in Lebanon. He’s always been a chef. And so when he came here, he opened Cedar at the current Coppa location on Shawmut Avenue. Growing up, my father, six days a week, he was the chef. My mother was the front of the house. And, you know, [they spent] all day prepping, and then dinner service. It was my kitchen. It’s where we ate. That’s where we pretty much lived, because we lived upstairs anyway.

That particular area was [full of] Lebanese immigrants. It was a very close community; it was definitely a great place to grow up. I have a lot of great memories there just meeting every single person in every single building. Everybody still stays in touch. My father used to cater a lot of church events for a lot of Lebanese churches. There were late nights sleeping in the kitchen while he catered the events. I grew up washing dishes and waiting tables and things like that.

How has the neighborhood changed? Is it more gentrified? What’s the biggest difference these days?

It went through a cycle where you saw your first condos coming around. A lot of single people were moving in; a lot of families were moving out. Now, all you see are really young families and a lot of strollers — a really beautiful community. So it kind of went in a circle. A lot of people moved in as singles and maybe got married and had families and children. It’s beautiful.


How do you think COVID affected the Boston restaurant industry? As somebody who’s been in this business for a very long time, how was it transformed?

As soon as we were able to reopen back in June 2020, I believe, the consumer confidence was there right away. People were out, even if they had their masks on. Right now, it almost feels as if it never existed. The only thing that changed, really, is when we came out of COVID, people were over-tipping servers and being nice to servers and remembering what the industry had gone through. That seems like it’s gone way out the window. Now people are impatient. It’s like COVID never happened, nobody lost two years of their lives. Let’s just get back to bashing the kitchen and bashing the servers and criticizing everything, you know?

How does that happen? Is it on Yelp? In person?

It’s definitely in person. Just from reopening Newbury Street, just one short week, you know. It could be an unhappy guest, somebody who was just unhappy with their day who comes in and takes it out on the staff: where they were seated, how the food came out, the timing of the food. They take out their bad day on the server because, you know, you have to smile. The customer’s always right.


The exterior of Eva in Back Bay.Chris Haynes

What keeps you in the business? Because that sounds hard. What do you love about it?

It’s hard. There’s nothing better than getting a great compliment and seeing staff happy and seeing the kitchen happy. Consistency is really the biggest thing; you just never let up. It’s never over. You don’t just open and that’s it. It’s a constant quality check: staying on top of every single part of every single department. It keeps you sharp, it keeps you on your toes, and it keeps the restaurant fresh. I love the industry. I don’t think I would ever do anything else.

How would you describe Boston’s nightlife, then and now?

There’s a lot more of it. It used to be really catered just toward college students, international students. But there’s definitely a lot more to do now than there ever was: elevated dining experiences, whether it’s a supper club or more options. I also own Bijou nightclub. There’s definitely more to do for adults than there used to be.

How has the clientele changed over the years?

I think by Boston expanding, attracting more jobs in the Financial District and in the pharmaceutical sector, it definitely enables us to grow in the food and beverage industry. There’s more of an infrastructure to support it now. We didn’t really have a large pharmaceutical and large Financial District the way it is now.

Is there an underrated Boston neighborhood or an undiscovered area in Boston? What’s the next big thing?

That’s pretty tough. Over by Fort Point, there’s a lot of plans for development. And I think that’s probably next. I do know there’s some plans to expand over by Bastille Kitchen, millions of square feet.


What’s the most underrated restaurant in Boston right now, or an underrated Boston chef?

Oh, that’s a tough one. It really is a tough one, because I don’t spend too much time in other restaurants, only because I don’t have the luxury of it. You know who? If he finds out I called him underrated, he might be upset. But he owns Mike’s City Diner: Jay Hajj. Jay is an incredible chef.

Favorite takeout?

Sweet Tomatoes. It’s phenomenal. It’s such a staple in Newton.

Are there any restaurants in Boston that you grew up loving that are no longer there? Any places from the past that you missed?

I’m sure as soon as we hang up, a few of them will come to mind. Whenever my wife and I do get a minute to go out, our favorite is Mistral. … They remember you. They reach out to you. They make sure that, if you’re a regular, you get taken care of. They remember your name. Somebody comes over and says ‘Hi’ and ‘Thank you for coming back; hope to see you again.’ The real bones of hospitality.

If you had to describe the Boston dining scene in one word, or the nightclub scene, what would you say?

I think it’s incredible for such a small city. I really do. I think we have one of the best dining scenes in the country. I wouldn’t put Boston behind anybody, with Jamie Bissonnette, and Jamie Mammano, and Ken Oringer. Lydia Shire? I mean, we really are underrated, and we definitely shouldn’t be. I think we have an incredible dining scene here. I think the restaurants are really amazing. I think people could say nightlife could get better if we could do later; we shut down at 2 a.m.

You probably don’t want to be doing that shift.

I get home at 3 as it is.

How do you do it? Do you get no sleep?

You get no sleep. Our business is not for people who are looking for sleep at all. We’re not here to sleep.

Kara Baskin can be reached at Follow her @kcbaskin.