Inaam Khazaal is celebrated for her birthday at beloved Phoenecia restaurant
by Patrick Robinson
I first met a man named Hussein Khazaal in 1975 just after he opened a new middle eastern restaurant in the West Seattle Junction. I would come to learn that his trademark phrase, "I want to make you something very special" was in part possible because of his wife, Inaam. The Phoenecia would later move to lower Queen Anne and then Alki Beach where it thrived. If Hussein was the smiling chef, Inaam was the woman with many of the recipes that defined their reputation. Hussein had worked in dozens of restaurants from the late 1960's and early 70's and knew the business well. He had always wanted to have a family too so after working in many countries he came to the west coast.
When they first came to Seattle it was Hussein's intention to stay here for only a short while then move on to Alaska, but along with their son William the couple soon had a daughter Sonya and the small restaurant they had opened was keeping their family going. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Their youngest daughter Nadia who is the owner and Manager of the Phoenecia spoke about her mother.
"She was born in Lebanon on July 3rd 1952. Every 4th of July she would say 'all of America is celebrating' her birthday with fireworks.
She married my father when she was 17 in Lebanon. I think they had an arranged marriage of sorts because thats how it worked in Lebanon in those days but of course she always gave me a romanticized version of how they met.
She would tell me the story of how she was standing out on her family's balcony in Lebanon and my father saw her from below and fell instantly in love at first sight. Then they got married."
Following their marriage they moved to West Africa, then New York and then Seattle. They opened the Phoenecia in the heart of the community of West Seattle to little fanfar. The restaurant soon developed a genuinely loyal following around the northwest and people grew to love the Khazaal family too.
When Hussein died suddenly in 2009 there was a huge outpouring of support. But it left a hole in the family that they were uncertain they could fill. They closed for a few weeks and it was during that time of deep grief that they found their strength.
Nadia said, "My mom insisted we keep my dads legacy alive and come together as a family and reopen the restaurant.
She worked very hard daily at the restaurant taking on both her and my fathers responsibilities for years."
Her warm smile and a loving embrace were given to thousands of guests.
Sadly in 2018 she was diagnosed with dementia. But on her birthday, surrounded by dozens of people who love her she came alive, and smiled just as she always had. There was so much love in the room you could hear it in every conversation, sense it in the grace everyone showed. It was her legacy held up for all to see.
She was serenaded, and people rose to tell stories about her. She had come full circle.
Nadia said, "We wanted to celebrate her and her legacy of love, elegance, and hospitality."
If Hussein could have been there, he would have been amazed that his wife and daughters had continued to build on the foundation his family had established. At the close of the evening, Inaam's smile and wave said it all.
See you again, thank you for being here.