A fixture at a Leesburg restaurant for a quarter-century, Said Mehenni has now set sail on his own, with the opening of the aptly named Solo Restaurant and Pizza.
Mehenni began his career in Leesburg 25 years ago, and worked his way up within his former restaurant, starting off as a dishwasher, moving over to cooking and then serving as general manager. He quickly earned a reputation as the “face” of his former place of employment, greeting customers and making sure their needs were attended to. Speaking six languages also helped him strike a chord with Leesburg’s diverse community.
Mehenni was just as famous for his acumen at hand-tossing pizzas.
“Pizza was the thing I loved the most,” he said. “I started practicing flipping the tower. Then I started making pie, people would come and see and take video.”
To the delight of parents, Mehenni also started handing out dough balls to young kids to keep them occupied so mom and dad could enjoy a meal in peace. He even remembers the first time he did this—with a young girl named Emily, 3 at the time and now around 20 years old, who was too antsy to sit still with her parents. He handed her a dough ball and told her to go make a pizza for her mom and dad. She promptly sat down with them and they were able to enjoy the rest of their meal.
It’s that attention to detail and value on customer satisfaction that has given Mehenni a loyal fan base and he hopes they will follow him across town to his new venture. He had been mulling breaking out on his own and starting his own restaurant for five years and over the summer finally decided to pull the trigger.
“People started waking me up. They said ‘Said, you’ve got all the quality after 25 years’. They were pushing me the last five years: ‘Go get your own’ [restaurant],” he said.
So, Mehenni began scouting locations in Leesburg and fortuitously found a former pizza shop looking to sell. Now, Solo will set up in the Exeter Neighborhood Center at the former site of Pizzarella’s.
Solo has a decidedly New York feel to it, from the posters of the Brooklyn Bridge to the open-style kitchen where pizzas are prepared within customers’ view. Mehenni promises to be just as much of a focal point in his own venture as at his former place of employment. He will help out with cooking as well as working the room in his signature style.
The expansive menu includes the best of New York fare, from freshly-made pizzas to hearty Italian dishes, like veal parmigiana, to a selection of tasty steak and cheese sandwiches. Signature dishes include a seafood platter and grilled chicken.
Putting the menu together was the hardest put of jumpstarting his restaurant, Mehenni admits. He enlisted the help of his wife, Fadia, who served as the official taste tester. The two would try out some dishes at home for dinner to decide what would be a part of Solo’s menu. Mehenni credits his 7-year-old son, Adam, for the inspiration behind one of the restaurant’s delectable desserts, a Nutella pizza. It starts off with a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven pizza crust, topped with Nutella hazelnut spread and cannoli cream. It promises to be a good reason to save room for dessert.
The restaurant will offer dine-in service, with seats for 55 people, carry out and delivery.
Mehenni said he is excited to open his doors to the public this Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 9. He acknowledges that for those not personally familiar with him he has one chance to make a great impression.
“First when you open, when there’s a new restaurant in town, the curiosity will draw you over there. Basically, you’ve got one shot,” he said. “If you see a rookie on the block you’re … going to judge the personality, the greeting and the approach.”
And that’s an area where Mehenni excels.
“I follow [people’s] body language. That’s what I’m good at,” he said. “I make sure I provide good food and service. My experience has taught me a lot.”
Mehenni can’t wait to get back to “his people” as he warmly calls his faithful past customers. He even points to Solo’s tag line—”for the people.” It’s the reason he’s doing all this, after all.
“I can’t wait to go back and serve Loudoun County, my people,” he said with a broad smile. “I can’t wait.”
Solo’s doors will open to the public at 11 a.m. Monday, Oct. 9. The restaurant’s regular business hours will be Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 9 p.m.
Solo is located at 700 Fieldstone Drive NE #124 in Leesburg. It can be reached at 571-510-3909, solonypizza.com, or on Facebook at Solo NY Pizza.