Hider family has recipe for success
By Nick Meyer - The Arab American News | Friday, 06.27.2008, 10:28 AM

Because it's a mixture of different foods from all over the world, American cuisine should by definition have the ability to bring different groups of people together.

And when the Hider family brought hamburgers to Beirut, Lebanon, that's exactly what it did.


Civil war hit Lebanon in 1974, but that didn't stop soldiers from both groups from coming in to grab a bite to eat in between the chaos.

"We had all different parties coming into the restaurant," said Feisal Hider, owner of Famous Hamburger in Dearborn on Schaefer and Ford, which came over from Lebanon in 1996 to Detroit. "They had M-16s on their back, bazookas. They would come in, eat, pay, and then go back out and start fighting again."

Hider and his father Hussein brought the first hamburger joint to Lebanon in 1968. Dubbed "Little White Castle" because of the success of the popular White Castle chain in America at that time (the "Little" part was added "so they wouldn't sue us," said Hider), the restaurant was a big hit from the beginning.

In 1970, they were forced to move to a different part of the city due to tensions surrounding the civil war that was about to come. They moved to the Ras Beirut downtown area and set up shop near a busy one-way street. The reaction that came next astounded them.

"Cars were honking their horns in support of us and everyone knew our name," said Hider. "So we said, 'Why do we have to be Little White Castle anymore? Let's name it Famous.'"

Twenty-eight years later, Famous Hamburger is just as famous in Dearborn as it was in Lebanon. The Hider family moved to Michigan in 1989 when the bombing in Lebanon started to get heavy.

They founded the first Famous restaurant in Detroit in 1998 before moving to Dearborn in 2005. Now, Famous Hamburgers is a popular hangout for citizens all over town and sometimes even from surrounding states on the weekend as evidenced by the license plates Hider sees in the parking lot.

Students from nearby Fordson High School as well as other schools like Dearborn High School and Dearborn Heights Crestwood make their way over after class, and members of older generations also make many appearances.

They come for the classic American style menu, but also because Famous Hamburgers offers a special twist that most other similar restaurants don't offer.

Every single item on the menu is certified halal, and the Hider family makes sure to research every product and ingredient they put on their menu or in their food beforehand so nothing slips through the cracks.


Hider talked about why he decided to start another franchise in America.

"We couldn't go to McDonald's, and my kids were getting sick of eating fish all the time," he said.

With a halal burger place in Michigan, Muslim immigrants finally had a place to go where they could enjoy one of America's favorite foods.


But while the Hider family takes pride in offering halal products to its customers, they emphasize that Famous Hamburgers is about having a place where everyone can come to eat, not about being discriminatory in any way.


Customers from Detroit to Dearborn to Ann Arbor stop in for one of 19 different specialty burgers as well as other items like smoothies, shakes, Famous fries, salads, pizza, ice cream and desserts. The "Famous Corner" is another popular selling point for the restaurant as an add-on section with a fireplace and flat-screen TV where people can kick back and enjoy an argileh with their food.  


The most popular burger is the Famous, which features two patties, one covered with egg and one covered with cheese. It may sound a little out there, but Hider loves it and so do the customers. He tells people to take one bite and offers them their money back if they don't like it.

Starting July 1st, the restaurant will offer breakfast as well, but Hider said the egg makes the Famous burger a decent breakfast choice in its own right.

The Famous burger may be the most popular one, but only the one-pounder can make a customer famous. Anyone who puts down a one-pounder gets the option of having their picture put up on Famous' Web site, www.famoushamburger.com.  


Most pictures are of burly football players and other assorted brutes, but one customer came in and pulled off a huge surprise.

"This tiny 19-year old girl came in one time and ate one, and on the picture we took of her, she wrote, 'You thought girls couldn't do it, but I did it,'" said Hider.

Soon, more people across the country will get a chance to take the same challenge, as well as to enjoy Famous Hamburger's signature recipes. They already have one location in Los Angeles, California and another in Allen Park, and 46 potential franchisees are waitlisted for the possibility of opening new locations.


Every single one, no matter where it opens, will have all halal products just like the Dearborn location. But as Hider said, anyone is always welcome, regardless of ethnicity or religion, because a good hamburger has the uncanny ability to bring people together.

By Nick Meyer - The Arab American News

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