Restaurateur thinks big

Five Palms, planned on north side, will share its massive space with bar and grill, wine bar, retail store, banquet hall and corporate club
2012-10-21T00:00:00Z 2013-03-19T12:12:58Z Restaurateur thinks bigGabriela Rico Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 21, 2012 12:00 am  • 

A fine-dining restaurant, wine bar, bar and grill, wine store, banquet hall and corporate club are under construction on Tucson's north side - and all under the same roof.

The project is the brainchild of a Syrian-French businessman who recently sold his restaurant operations in Sonora, Mexico, to enter the U.S. market via Tucson.

"Here. Right here," Nino Aidi says as he pantomimes a large, rectangular object, "this is where the steaks will be aged."

He spins around on the sawdust-covered floor and points to another nook in what will be the restaurant's foyer.

"And the live-lobster tank will sit right here."

Aidi stops for a moment as he ponders the next stop on the tour.

"Come. Come," the animated businessman says as he motions toward the formal dining room.

"You believe this?" he asks, pointing to the stained glass from Sonora that adorns the length of the ceiling.

Waving away a cloud of dust from the ongoing construction, Aidi, 52, clutches his unlit cigar and moves from room to room, giving a boisterous narrative of his unfolding project.

Multiple components

Located in the former Terra Cotta restaurant on Sunrise Drive, Five Palms will feature a steakhouse that offers seafood flown in daily, Aidi says.

"One day from Hawaii, one day from Boston, one day from Rhode Island," he says.

The adjacent downstairs wine bar and the upstairs Nino's Bar and Grill will have rotating menus.

"Every day will be different," Aidi says. "I don't want the loyal customers, who like the atmosphere, to get tired of the same thing every day."

Along with his restaurant license, Aidi also has a retail, wine-store license that allows him to sell wine from the first-floor wine shop - Dovino - to dinner guests at retail prices.

"We won't have a wine list," he says. "We'll have a wine store."

Aidi plans to stock the shop with 500 wines from 13 countries, which can be purchased to go or ordered for home delivery.

On the second floor, a banquet hall that can accommodate up to 100 people will be available to rent for parties, weddings or family reunions.

But beyond dinner guests and partygoers, Aidi is looking to create a hub for Tucson's and Sonora's business communities.

Upstairs he plans a 15-person conference room, equipped with videoconferencing that can be rented for meetings. A private club, called XO300, will be for corporate clients.

Members will be assigned an XO300 executive who can arrange a lunch or dinner meeting with a menu that includes food and wine selected by the business owner.

The guest menus will include the corporation's logo and will not list prices. The member gets 25 percent off purchases and will have access to a private, weekly cocktail party with other corporate members, Aidi says.

Club memberships will vary widely, depending on the type and size of the corporation, he said.

"This world is no place to do the same thing," Aidi says. "It's risky, but you have a chance to succeed if you create something new."

The 12,800-square-foot space is getting a major face-lift, and most of the walls are being torn down and replaced with large windows.

Aidi plans to hire up to 80 employees and hopes to open by the end of November.

"But only," he says, "if we're 100 percent ready."

Novel concept

Colette Landeen, executive director of Tucson Originals, called Aidi's project "interesting and innovative" for Tucson.

"There's nothing like that, that I know of, amongst our members," she said, of the group's local restaurant owners.

"Some of our restaurants have been doing that to some extent," Landeen said, "trying to have the VIP attention on a case-by-case basis.

"He's taking that to the next level with something he can actually promote and advertise within the Tucson community," she said. "It would definitely be a first, as far as I know. I wish him luck."

Nancy McClure, first vice president at CBRE, specializing in retail properties, represented the landlord in the deal and applauded the building rebirth.

"This property is ideal for a new restaurant concept like Five Palms," she said. "Its premium location in the Catalina Foothills offers excellent visibility, and its beautiful new interior decor and unique architecture will only enhance the dining experience."

Storied career

Aidi was raised in Paris by Syrian and French parents. His family was involved in the hospitality industry and operated the Chaine Royal Monceau in France and Cham Palace Hotel Damascus in Syria.

Aidi's parents sent him to a monastery in Vermont for some schooling and discipline when he was teen. English-language high school in Boston followed, and - for a boy who hated cold weather - dreams of warm climates dominated his thoughts.

He applied to colleges in hot, dry states and eagerly awaited an acceptance letter.

And that's how he ended up at Cochise College.

Aidi pauses for reaction.

"Hey," he says, "they were the first ones to get back to me."

It was in Douglas that Aidi says he fell in love with Mexican girls and, after college, moved to Ciudad Obregon in Sonora. In 1982, he opened his first restaurant, La Beheme French Restaurant, in Culiacan, Sinaloa.

Over the next three decades, Aidi opened eight restaurants throughout Sonora, including the popular El Horno de Castilla in Hermosillo and Five Palms in San Carlos.

He considers Tucson a good test market to move his corporate-restaurant concept into the U.S.

"There's a diverse population here," Aidi says. "This is a good starting point.

"I'll take it from here."

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@azstarnet.com or 573-4232.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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