An International Couple Opens Peruvian-Inspired Restaurant In Fairview Heights, Illinois
Abraham Abdalla was busy the day we talked, and probably dead tired, too. He has a newborn baby boy at home—and since Lorena, Abdalla’s wife, is head chef at the Fairview Lounge, the lines between business owner and proud, sleep-deprived father blur.
His foray into the St. Louis culinary scene began in 1998, with an internship at St. Louis’ Union Station. In present times, it has grown into Fairview Lounge, the Peruvian bar and grill in Fairview Heights, Illinois, which opened in 2014. The hospitality industry is deep in Abdalla’s bones.
Technically, the journey began in his native Syria, then continued to Ireland, where Abdalla studied hospitality management in college. The St. Louis internship was random, but he liked it well enough to stay in St. Louis afterward, and continued working at restaurants across the city, from Clayton to Tony’s downtown.
Abdalla’s entrepreneurial spirit prompted him to look at business options, and owning a gas station seemed to be a more reliable return on investment, certainly in comparison to opening a restaurant. He wound up owning several throughout the metro area. “Still, in the back of my mind, I wanted to do what I went to school for,” he says.
During a vacation in Peru with his wife’s family, Abdalla got the idea to open a restaurant in one of the gas stations, which would serve Peruvian-inspired cuisine from his wife, he envisioned. “She’s naturally a really good cook,” he says. Lorena was up for the adventure, but he warned her that opening a restaurant would require much more of them than running gas stations. “The restaurant business is really difficult,” he remembers telling her. She agreed to move forward.
Then, there was the matter of introducing Peruvian cuisine to a suburban, Midwestern audience. Abdalla is passionate about his wife’s homeland and its long history, from early settlements dating back to at least 5000 B.C., all the way up to the Incan empire from 1200 to 1500 A.D. But he is also a realist. “Sometimes people don’t even know where Peru is,” he says, “and it’s a country of 30 million people. They say, ‘Oh, Mexico?’”
However, the geographic disparity between the business and place of origin did not stop the husband-wife team from altering their dishes. “We give customers 110 percent authentic Peruvian food,” Abdalla says. It is his belief that their commitment to authenticity has had an impact, paving the way for the Fairview Lounge’s popularity. “Chicken is chicken. It’s the way you prepare it that matters,” he says. A few menu favorites include Peruvian classics like lomo saltado (tenderloin strips with onion and tomatoes), empanadas (stuffed with ground beef, olives, onions and raisins), and causa rellena (mashed potatoes with lime and aji chile peppers, filled with chicken or tuna). “A lot of people ask if I have a favorite dish,” says Abdalla. “But it’s like asking if I have a favorite kid.”
Between their business and active family life—the couple now have four children—they don’t manage to make it to Peru nearly as often as they’d like. “When people go to Peru and show me a picture, it makes me happy,” he says. But his favorite part of running the restaurant? “Talking to people,” he says.
10616 Lincoln Trail
Hours: Daily 11am-1:30am