- Moudi Sbeity
Community has always been Utah Pride's focal point, and good food has always played a crucial role in any community. Some of our most treasured local restaurants earn their success by establishing themselves as neighborhood social hubs. These are the places that, divisive as our current political climate can be, still manage to unite everyone under the universal banner of getting something good to eat. It's hard to find a spot that better embodies the beauty of community-centered eateries than Laziz Kitchen (912 S. Jefferson St., 801-441-1228).
Not only does Laziz bring diners of all walks of life together with its unique menu of Lebanese comfort food and welcoming, neighborhood atmosphere, but community focus happens to be in the restaurant's DNA.
Owned and operated by power couple Moudi Sbeity and Derek Kitchen, Laziz grew from a humble entity selling top-notch Middle Eastern spreads at local farmers markets and grocery stores, to the culinary epicenter it is today. Neither Sbeity nor Kitchen would call this process a particularly easy journey, but adversity is something that they've grown accustomed to throughout their lives together. "It's a lot of trial and error, as with anything," Sbeity says. "You make mistakes along the way, and that's just how it goes. It can be frustrating at times, but you just have to take it as it comes."
Not only has the couple's journey from market stand to brick-and-mortar had its share of ups and downs, but their relationship, like many other couples, had to endure a lot of hardship before they arrived at the seemingly idyllic life they now enjoy together. Sbeity himself was an evacuee from the Israeli-Lebanese war in 2006. "I found my way to Utah because I have an aunt who lives in Sandy," he says. He was accepted to Utah State University in Logan where he studied economics and philosophy. His game plan was to graduate and leave Utah behind—but that was before he met Kitchen. "Once you meet somebody and fall in love, it grounds you a little bit more."
The pair, like many modern couples, met online. "It started as a social forum for gay snowboarders," Sbeity says of the site. Kitchen, who was studying political science at the University of Utah, drove up to Logan for their first date, and they immediately hit it off. "I lived with five other roommates at the time, and I didn't have a bed. I used to sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag," Sbeity says. "We just opened up the sleeping bag and used it as a blanket as we slept on the floor."
Sbeity and Kitchen dated long-distance throughout their college years, visiting each other on weekends and during breaks. "After Moudi and I graduated, we both worked at elementary schools with the Salt Lake City School District doing aftercare programming," Kitchen says. "It was while we were doing that, that we stumbled into the business of selling hummus." The product that made Laziz famous evolved because of Sbeity's culinary heritage. "I grew up in a household where my mom cooked every day," he reminisces. "It's a rite of passage to make hummus."
Soon, the Laziz brand grew large enough to expand onto the shelves of several local grocery stores, and it wasn't long until the couple thought about opening a storefront. "We met the developers of this property at Blue Copper Coffee," Kitchen says. "They developed the coffee shop, and we were there every day. They approached us and it just sort of came from that."
Since then, the pair has been deeply involved in the burgeoning Central Ninth area, and the passion that they have for sustainable urban development has framed every aspect of their relationship. In 2014, they spearheaded the lawsuit Kitchen v. Herbert, which was the court case that ruled Utah's prohibition of same-sex marriage as federally unconstitutional. "That kind of catapulted us into the local spotlight," Kitchen says. "Once the litigation came to an end, we had changed the world in some sense."
A busy year later, Sbeity and Kitchen were married, and Kitchen was elected to city council in Salt Lake's Fourth District. Last February, he announced that he would be running for a spot in the state senate. "I have a primary coming up on June 26 and I'm really excited about it. I feel optimistic about my chances and the opportunity that lies ahead for local activism," he says.
As two people who understand the true value of community, Sbeity and Kitchen are huge supporters of Utah Pride. "I love Pride because the whole city turns gay. It's one of my favorite times of the year because everybody comes out—both literally and figuratively," Sbeity says. "Pride has become more and more about not just the LGBTQ community, but anyone in Utah who is not the majority."
It's easy to forget that there are people who are genuinely dedicated to bringing about positive change within their communities. These two, however, are a great reminder that there are still plenty of good guys in the world—and it doesn't hurt that they turn out a spectacular shakshouka while they make the world a better place.
Open: Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.;
Sat.-Sun., 9 a.m.-3 p.m.;
Tues.-Sun., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.;
Best bet: The Mediterranean lunch platter
Can’t miss: Seriously, the shakshouka