Fhima opens two new Zahtar restaurants in the Twin Cities

Flamboyant restaurateur finally focuses on giving diners what they want

Now, I don't mean to make a mountain out of a marshmallow; I bring this up as a way to talk about Fhima's notorious difficulty with details. He's far more an idea guy than a manager. In fact, the very things that attracted people to Fhima—his ambitious, creative vision and innovative culinary ideas—were perhaps his biggest liabilities, and the reason he continued to pursue expansion before first attending to his existing businesses' viability.

Taking on too much was eventually what led to Fhima's downfall. The first major public clue that the Fhima empire was crumbling revealed itself in May 2006, when Xcel Energy shut off power to LoTo for six days while rumors swirled that Fhima owed the utility nearly $50,000. Within weeks, both the Minneapolis and St. Paul papers published lists of Fhima's legal woes, which amounted to nearly a million dollars in civil claims, judgments, liens, and unpaid bills. Fhima was being sued by the IRS for unpaid federal employment taxes, by an architecture and engineering firm that had worked on Louis XIII and LoTo, by his former Mpls. Cafe landlord for back rent and expenses, and by the Fish Guys, one of his former vendors. He was late to pay the city of Edina for Louis XIII's liquor license, and staff paychecks were bouncing. An old wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by an employee of his California restaurant had resurfaced.

A restaurateur's reputation can be made or broken by his ability to build a team that can carry out his or her vision. And this is something Fhima continues to struggle with, especially in the service department. True, Fhima's front-of-the-house teams are cheerful and friendly, but they always seem to lack experience and training.

The eternal optimist: Fhima with chicken tajine
Jana Freiband
The eternal optimist: Fhima with chicken tajine

Location Info


Zahtar by Fhima

615 2nd Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)


appetizers $5-$14, entrées $16-$35

ZAHTAR MINNEAPOLIS (open to the public)
The Grand Hotel, 615 Second Ave. S., Minneapolis;

ZAHTAR EDEN PRAIRIE (Life Time Fitness members and guests only)
755 Prairie Center Dr., Eden Prairie

At Zahtar, a few of the wait staff I encountered seemed woefully unaware of what they were serving. The Couscous Royale arrived with an accompanying pitcher of thin, golden-colored liquid (vegetable broth, according to the menu), and when I asked my waiter about it, he actually said, "I have no clue what that is." Others behave as if they can't put themselves in a diner's shoes and demonstrate an utter lack of instinct about when to approach a table (hint: It's not every three to four minutes). One waiter hovered like a hungry pet waiting for dropped crumbs; our plates were being collected as soon as the tines of our forks pierced the last bite. Looking back at City Pages' first review of a Fhima restaurant, it seems some things haven't changed. Fhima still insists on putting multiple sports-blaring televisions in a place with pricey bottles of wine. Waiters still neglect to clean up spills—mine even created the spill, by dumping a dish of soy sauce all over the table, and didn't seem to notice the inky puddle after several trips back to the table.

In his new role, Fhima may not be directly responsible for the waitstaff, but still, their behavior influences his reputation. And this question of responsibility relates to Fhima's larger business dealings: How much can we blame Fhima for his bankruptcy? Talking to Fhima, one gets the heartsick sense that he's a man who tried his damnedest and feels genuinely remorseful about his losses. Still, those millions of dollars weren't just the result of one bad decision, and Fhima's inability to fully repay his debts created a whole slew of problems for many other businesses and individuals.

In scaling back, Fhima seems to, for the first time perhaps, be focusing more on giving diners what they want rather than telling them what they need. That tactic likely makes more business sense. Still, I think we need to give credit to the old David Fhima for his strident belief that the Twin Cities deserved big, beautiful, ambitious restaurants.  

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