BY VON LOZON
Restaurant owner Norman Aiyash has been eyeballing the Downriver area, specifically Woodhaven, for as long as five years. He wanted to establish his 10th Leo’s Coney Island in Woodhaven. Finding the right location was the tricky part, but after five years of patience he finally opened his new location at 23305 Allen Road near West.
One of the main reasons that Aiyash wanted to open a Leo’s in Woodhaven is because of the people.
“I love the people in this area to be honest with you,” Aiyash said. “They are nice people. I feel like I am at home.”
The new Leo’s Coney Island features all of Leo’s signature dishes, but also has its own unique menu specifically catered to Woodhaven. Aiyash said his bosses were not pleased with him when he would change the specialized menu options at first, but once they came in to try his food they knew they could trust his decision-making.
“I do 30 percent of my sales just from that menu,” he said. “We do a lot of stuff different, even the seasoning. I use my own. With the special menu, I change the stuff I don’t like. If I don’t like the taste of it I change it. I got yelled at from the franchise because I changed the recipes. I told them to come here and try everything. They tried it and said it was good, so they left it alone.”
Aiyash purchased his first Leo’s, his Plymouth location, on March 13, 2008, which he calls his “baby.” Even though his Plymouth location has a warm spot in Aiyash’s heart, he treats every location the same and wants every customer to feel the same — like family.
“I feel like anyone who walks through the door is not just a customer to me, or a guest — I feel like this is my house,” Aiyash said. “Everything looked good about the area, and that’s what you want. I love the people, seriously. I know everybody when I walk into the Plymouth store, and I feel the same way here.”
One of Aiyash’s main missions is to offer great service to every customer and have them wanting to come back again. He feels it is “embarrassing” if a customer leaves his restaurant unsatisfied.
“It’s embarrassing for (customers) to walk out the door not happy,” Aiyash said. “Every store I have is like that. Before I put (managers) in a partnership with me (I tell them) it’s all about cleanliness, service and food, and to make sure people never walk out that door unhappy, I don’t care what they have to do. If they cannot do this, they cannot (work) with me.”
Aiyash also gets involved in each community he owns a Leo’s in. He has fundraised for schools and churches, and plans to do the same in Woodhaven.
“Whatever I can do to help, I want to support them,” he said. “Those are the people that are going to support me. If they need me, I’m there. You have to be a part of the community because that’s who is going to support you. We never say no.”
The journey to owning 10 Leo’s began for Aiyash when he was a manager at a restaurant at Greektown Casino in Detroit. He began as a chef but worked his way to a managerial position.
“I managed it for 10 years,” he said. “Then I thought about it and I said ‘I’m going to do my own’ because my brother worked for Leo’s. So we started it, did good and kept opening (more).”
It took Aiyash a long time to set up his restaurant in Woodhaven, but now that it is up and running he just wants to see how everything goes for now, which so far has been good, he said. Aiyash plans on having outdoor seating “when the snow is gone,” but he plans on keeping everything else the same in the spring and summer.
He doesn’t have any specific goals set for 2018, but Aiyash does want as many people in the area to try his food as possible, as well as having people leave the store happy.
“I want people to try it and make sure they are happy,” he said. “If anyone wants to do a fundraiser for a school, I’m here; for a church, I’m here; for anything, I’m here. I’ll support anybody in the area. I want to be like (a member) of the family. I’m trying to make everybody happy and make them feel like they are at home.”