TRAVERSE CITY — His first restaurant exposure was a French eatery in Toledo.
Brent Temple’s professional palate includes Chinese, Italian and good old-fashioned American comfort food. But it was an excursion into Indian and Middle Eastern fare that really whet his appetite.
A blending of ethnic and American fare — as well as opening his own place in Traverse City — is the basis of Habibi Middle Eastern Coney. The Mediterranean restaurant is scheduled to open in March at 124 Cochlin Ave., adjacent to the Super 7 convenience store.
“March is what I’m looking at,” Temple said. “My birthday is March 16, so I’m hoping by then.”
Habibi means “my love” in Arabic and that’s what the 58-year-old Temple wants to bring to the area.
“Cook good food,” Temple said. “That’s all I want to do.”
Temple said he fell in love with the region professionally when he was the executive chef for Taste of India in the Grand Traverse Mall. Temple said he was given $100 to create three meals: butter chicken, aloo gobi and chicken tikka masala.
Temple landed the job before leaving in March to pursue other opportunities. After working in a factory and a stint at The Cottage Cafe, Temple decided to open his own eatery, and he said the 450-square-foot space next to Super 7 was perfect.
“It’s about as close to downtown as you can get,” Temple said. “I think I’ll do the neighborhood justice with the Indian food. I want to bring Traverse City ... authentic Mediterranean food that’s affordable.”
He said the location’s proximity to Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse City Central High School and hotels and motels on Munson Avenue is the perfect spot for a restaurant with a variety of offerings.
“Location, location, location,” he said. “I couldn’t beat it with a stick.”
Angela Dhami, who owns Super 7, Gas ‘N’ Shop at the corner of M-37 and M-113 outside of Kingsley and Deeps Corner Store in Northport, thinks the convenience store and restaurant will feed off each other.
“I think so,” said Dhami, who credited her husband and children with running their three stores. “People come there for food, stop at the store for beer or wine. People coming into the store looking for food can go over there. I think it’s a good partnership moving forward. It’s a perfect spot.”
Temple said Indian food can be a little too intense for some people, so he plans to offer “a variety of meats, dips and dishes” from his cooking background.
“Indian food is spicy,” Temple said. “Indian food slaps you; Middle Eastern food kisses you.”
Temple also wants to bring his food to customers quickly. He said Habibi Middle Eastern Coney will be “takeout buffet-style” with a food bar that will include a pair of steam tables, a station for Gyros, a warmer for a Mediterranean take on ‘pizza’ and even a hot dog spit. There will also be vegetarian and vegan options.
“I’m building it for speed,” Temple said. “I can serve you and have you out the door in three minutes. It’s built for good, fast service.”
Temple said he landed his lease after bringing his food to the staff at Super 7. Dhami said her son, Nav, is probably the one most responsible for getting Temple into the space.
“My son loves his food there,” Angela Dhami said. “Him and Brent started talking and they put it together.”
Temple said he’s also taken his food to other Traverse City businesses to receive feedback.
“I’ve had a lot of good response,” he said.
While the bulk of his professional career is in restaurants and hospitality, Temple has also dabbled in other ventures. The birth of his daughter in Traverse City propelled him to nursing school in his 40s. He also completed the surgical tech program through Baker College in Cadillac, nearly completed his bachelor’s degree in counseling and worked a variety of other jobs, including manufacturing.
But he always came back to cooking, especially after getting back to restaurants a dozen years ago.
“I fell back in love with it again,” he said.
After the latest restrictions on in-person dining in November, Temple came to another conclusion.
“I decided, ‘I’m not going to be afraid of COVID anymore,’” he recalled. “I’m going to get my own place.”