For an authentic American diner experience, try Ze’s Diner for American classics such as meatloaf and pot roast. The restaurant is a hit with locals and first time visitors to the area, both of whom are charmed by the restaurant’s retro décor, 1950s rock memorabilia and affordable menu, which is wonderfully homely, even the jam is homemade. This is a great place for a bit of nostalgia in a modern setting. This diner is especially great for breakfast, when you can try a Cajun breakfast, biscuits and gravy, or a whole host of egg dishes.
It feels a little bit like a time warp sitting down in a booth at the new Ze’s Diner in Woodbury – almost like if you’re not wearing bobby socks and poodle skirts or leather jackets, you’re not dressed for dinner.
But Ze’s Diner is very much a diner for 2015. It’s got bright, strong colors, a menu that has a little bit of everything, and a staff who are happy to be part of Woodbury. In the few short weeks it’s been open, Ze’s is quickly attracting the attention of both the young and the old.
Owner Moody Arafa opened Ze’s Diner on Jan. 20. That next Sunday, Ze’s had a “soft opening,” that wasn’t really so soft – with 91 seats available in the place, Ze’s was packed to capacity and had, at times, a 25-minute wait.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” Arafa said.
The Woodbury location may have been spurred, a bit, by the reputation that preceded it. Arafa and his family own another Ze’s Diner in Eagan, and the Cahill Diner in Inver Grove Heights. The family has been in the diner business for seven years – since Arafa left his corporate job with the Axel’s Bonfire chain, and decided to invest in a family-run restaurant.
The thing was, seven years ago, Arafa admits he didn’t really know much about running a diner. He’d been in the restaurant business his whole life, but the concept of a diner was so much different from what he’d experienced. Still, when he and his wife, Zeze – for whom the Eagan and Woodbury diners are named – found the then-ailing Cahill Diner, they also found a challenge they wanted to take on.
The recipes at all of Arafa’s sites come from Zeze. Everything is homemade. Between Zeze’s recipes and Moody’s business sense, the family was able to turn around the Cahill Diner. Four years later, they opened Ze’s Diner in Eagan.
The new location in Woodbury came about after the family had considered expanding the Cahill Diner. Working with a broker, though, the Arafas learned about an open site in Woodbury.
Albeit, a site that needed some work.
“When I walked in here, it was ugly in here,” Arafa said. “My wife and daughter said, ‘You’re crazy. Let’s get out of here,’ because the place was unattractive.”
For the next four months, Arafa and his staff worked to renovate the entire interior of their site. He spent about $51,000 on custom-made tables, chairs and other interior furniture. They had bright red, yellow, black and white tiling put in, and knocked out walls.
At the same time, they trained employees at their other locations. When Jan. 20 rolled around, everyone was ready to open.
The menu for Ze’s Diner is as unique as its interior. For instance, there are the typical things one might find in a diner – patty melts, reubens, BLTs and, of course, cheeseburgers – listed in the burgers and sandwich menu. But there are other surprises like a veggie falafel pita, a chicken hummus wrap, and fish tacos, too.
Ze’s serves breakfast all day long. They tout nine different kinds of omelets, French toast and pancakes, biscuits and gravy. The entrees include comfort foods like beef stroganoff, meatloaf, pot roast, and rotisserie chicken. And Mediterranean kabobs.
And what diner would be complete without shakes or malts? Certainly not Ze’s Diner. They offer seven different flavors of shakes and malts – all a big hit with customers.
The selection may seem a bit unusual, but it has worked well in the other locations, Arafa said. And so far, customers seem to agree.
“This is a fun place. Kids will like it,” he said. “Good food, good theme, good service. You have to go with the whole thing.”
The Woodbury community is bustling with business and there surely is no shortage of restaurants.
In a community packed with so many dining options, to be a standout joint you must bring something unique to the table. Moody Arafa, owner of Ze’s Diner in Woodbury, certainly does just that.
Moody Arafa and his wife Zeze Arafa are co-owners of Ze’s Diner and have been in the restaurant business for over 30 years. But it wasn’t until 2012, after their success with Cahill Diner in Inver Grove Heights, that this family decided to bring their knack for snacks to the city of Woodbury.
Ze’s Diner is a 1950s-themed restaurant famous for a diverse menu that mixes American and Mediterranean cuisine and of course, all-day breakfast.
“When we first started the restaurant business, I ran hotels, we had really good experience with food,” Moody said.
It is one of their top priorities to make sure that the food is exceptional.
“The menu is so good…you’re going to come back for more,” said Moody, boasting of the most popular items on the menu like the Cajun Breakfast that comes with andouille sausage and spiced with cajun seasoning, or Ze’s Slam that comes with two eggs, hashbrowns and choice of not one but two meats.
This family’s ability to create a successful business gave them the liberty to say farewell to their day jobs and hello to the fast-paced life of running a restaurant. In 2008 Moody took a bold leap and decided to quit his job in order to pursue his passion for cuisine full time.
He, his wife and their daughter, Amal Arafa manage all of the restaurant operations. But it’s more than just the food that Moody and his family put their hearts into.
“Customer service is really our core value,” he said.
The Arafa family puts a tremendous amount of effort into making sure that their customers are well taken care of and not only their customers, but their staff as well. Moody was proud to share that the average cook at Ze’s makes about $19 per hour.
In a tucked away location at 2190 Eagle Creek Lane, Ze’s Diner is a hidden gem of Woodbury providing much more than good food. Moody is extremely involved in the community and regularly supports Woodbury in various ways.
“We love community, I’m part of the Chamber,” he said.
Ze’s Diner also regularly supports local schools, churches and even participates in the annual Chili Hubbub fundraiser. The Arafa family has worked very hard to create and maintain a great restaurant that not only provides delicious food, but incredible service and an unforgettable experience.
Moody Arafa never understood the mystique of the 1950s American diner—at least until he and his wife Zeze Arafa started thinking about opening their own restaurant in Inver Grove Heights.
But the more they researched the concept, the more the idea of down-home cooking in a brightly-decorated diner appealed to the Arafas, who are Eagan residents.
“We just really feel in love with the theme,” said Arafa, who opened the Cahill Diner in 2009.
Fast forward three years, and the Arafas are just weeks away from opening their second 1950s-themed restaurant, Ze’s Town Center Diner, which will be located in Eagan’s expansive Town Centre shopping complex. The 3,300-square-foot diner will feature burgers, meatloaf, lamb and pot roast, and all the trappings of 1950s Americana, including flashy decor, vintage-style photos and checker tiles.
Moody Arafa, who is the director of operations for Axel’s Bonfire Restaurant Company, has spent much of his life neck-deep in the restaurant industry, including a stint as the owner of the Signature Café in Minneapolis.
The Arafas, who live close to Town Centre in Eagan, have long thought about opening a restaurant in their home city. But it wasn’t until the owners of the shopping complex reached out to them that the pair of restarauteurs decided to take action, Moody said.
The Arafas’ daughter will take over the day-to-day operations of the Cahill Diner, while Zeze will transition over to their new business in Eagan. Items on the menu will range in price from $7.50 to $15, said Moody, who plans to open the doors to Ze’s Diner early in March.
Moody, the father of five, said he has enjoyed working alongside his wife and children over the last year to bring Ze’s Diner to life.
“It doesn’t hit me until I walk into that place; it just doesn’t seem real that me and my family are able to accomplish that goal,” Moody said. “I do have a lot of high epectations for that place, I think it’s going to do really well.”
Correction: This article has been changed to correct an inaccuracy. The Signature Café in Minneapolis is still open.
Five businesses will receive the 2013 Dakota County Regional (DCR) Chamber of CommerceBusiness Excellence Awards at an awards celebration on Nov. 21.
The awards recognize those businesses that “exhibit innovation, growth and leadership.”
This year, Ze’s Diner will receive the Small Business of the Year Award.
The other businesses receiving awards include:
Business Excellence Award: Flint Hills Resources
Community Leadership Award: August Ash
Non-Profit of the Year Award: Dodge Nature Center
Woman/Minority Owned Business Award: Bellacu
The feature presenter at the event is Eagan resident Jeff Pellegrom, executive vice president and chief financial officer for the Minnesota Wild. Pellegrom will present on the business success of the Minnesota Wild.
The awards celebration will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21 at the Lost Spur Golf and Event Center, located at 2750 Sibley Memorial Highway in Eagan. Tickets include breakfast and are $30 per person.
What is a diner?
Technically speaking, it’s a free-standing building shaped like a dining car, a la the original Mickey’s in downtown St. Paul.
Diners evolved from lunch wagons in the late 1800s, and the dining-car model caught on in the 1930s, when pre-fabricated diners began popping up, first on the East Coast and later around the country. Mickey’s opened in 1939.
However, the spirit of the diner, which originally was intended to provide a cheap, quick meal for the masses, lives on in many neighborhood eateries.
As places like Birdhouse on Hennepin, which owners Stewart and Heidi Woodman call their “finer diner,” and Kim Bartmann’s upcoming Tiny Diner, which will use produce from its own garden, begin to change, yet again, the scope of what a diner is, let’s revisit some of the classics.
Here are a few of our favorite places to get a watery cup of joe and a hearty breakfast or standard patty melt in the east metro. Though the majority of these restaurants have been around for a long time, we did include the Daily Diner Frogtown. Even though it’s new and the food is somewhat evolved, the diner’s focus on feeding the neighborhood with mostly standard breakfast fare seemed to fit the bill.
This squeaky-clean little storefront place next to an auto-parts store in Inver Grove Heights is decked out in decidedly new ’50s-style furniture, but it doesn’t necessarily lack in character.
The decor is trying to be kitschy, and it is. An oddball mural in which St. Paul landmarks are painted side-by-side with the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Egyptian pyramids and the Eiffel Tower is fun to analyze, especially with a snarky dining partner.
Thankfully, the food is good. The M&M Sandwich Melt ($8.25), with caramelized, salty ham and buttery sourdough, is giant and tasty and comes with Cahill’s hash browns, which are a cut above many others.
Cahill Diner: 6504 Cahill Ave., Inver Grove Heights; 651-455-4408
Occupation: Owner (with wife ZeZe) of Cahill Diner (6504 Cahill Ave., Inver Grove Heights; 651-455-4408; cahilldiner.com); the upcoming Ze’s Diner (3448 Denmark Ave., Town Centre, Eagan); and director of operations for Axel’s Bonfire Restaurant Co.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I’ve always loved business. I wanted to open my own trucking company, and I did some of that in Egypt. Moving here in 1984 was like being born again. But it was difficult at first because I didn’t speak a word of English.
What was your first job in food? I was a busboy at Woolworth’s in the IDS Building in Minneapolis. After working there for a month, I thought there had to be something better, so I pushed the elevator button and hit the 50th floor. At that time, it was the Orion Room, and I worked there as a dishwasher. Eventually, I moved into the kitchen and worked those positions. Then, I became a bartender for Cleo’s, the 50th-floor bar.
How did you wind up in the restaurant business? I made a trip back to Egypt and met a guy who owned the Signature Cafe in Minneapolis. He was trying to sell it and sought me out to help, and I ended up buying it from him.
What’s something few people know about you? That I am huge, huge, huge into family. I’m a father of five – four have a college education. My youngest daughter, who finished a four-year degree in 2-1/2 years, is going to be running the Cahill Diner. My wife is going to be running the one in Eagan.
What culinary trend do you wish would die? I would have to say fast food. It doesn’t really help our kids much.
What’s something in your career that you wish you had done differently? I love where I am today and that I did everything the hard way. I had a degree in Egypt, but if I had to do it over again, I probably would have gotten more schooling here.
What’s your favorite restaurant? I like the Downtowner Woodfire Grill. I like the Mediterranean twist to the entrees and the freshness of the pizza. I also like the open kitchen.
If someone were to play you in a movie, who should it be? I just love Jack Nicholson because you can relate to him. He can play any role, and he can make you laugh.
What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten? Frogs. In Egypt, they’re small and you don’t eat them. Here, they’re the size of chickens.
What’s next? My goal is to have three diners, because I love creating jobs for my family and others. I opened Cahill Diner in 2009 and now my daughter can work there and not have to sit in the unemployment line. My youngest son is just about to finish high school. By the time he finishes college, we’ll be in a position to give him his own place.