You can’t talk to metro Detroit foodies lately without hearing the buzz surrounding Lefty’s Dearborn Grill thanks to its unique food and emphasis on social media marketing. Customers can check out highlights on Instagram and behind-the-scene tidbits on SnapChat.
Lefty’s Dearborn Grill’s most popular item is its chicken sandwich breaded with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, released last month. The flavorful chicken is moist in the middle but crispy on the outside. Co-owner and manager Ahmed Zahr said he came up with the idea after considering the aesthetics of the white chicken against bright red Cheetos, and sure enough, it is Instagram-worthy. The sandwich has been reposted by many food bloggers, like Fred Sareini (@fsareini) and Seoung Lee (@ChowDownDetroit), both of whom created namesakes on the menu. Lee’s is a gooey cheesesteak hoagie topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos; Sareini’s, the Big Poppa, has ribeye, lettuce, pickles, and special sauce, similar to Lefty’s Downtown Grill’s Double Decker burger. Chow Down Detroit’s Jan. 23 post of the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos breaded chicken sandwich has racked up close to 2,700 ‘likes.’
Although the sandwich isn’t on the eatery’s permanent menu, word has quickly spread. Every fourth or fifth post on the restaurant’s Instagram features the chicken sandwich or another Cheetos-infused item, like the Jalapeno Cheddar Cheetos chicken burger, or the Jalapeno Cheetos and Cheddar Stuffed Burger.
“Before, only big companies could advertise, like Subway could afford to be on TV. But now, I can hit 100,000 people in my target area,” Zahr said.
When Lefty’s Dearborn Grill, located at 5854 Schaefer Road, unveiled the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Chicken Sandwich last month, they were going through more than 100 bags of Cheetos per day, and the popularity hasn’t died down since then. Zahr said the item is available for a limited time only, but won’t be going away for at least another month.
Jordan Hunt of Dearborn stopped in after seeing photos on social media, and said the simple red sandwich was even better than expected, especially the sriracha mayonnaise.
Another wildly popular item is the Philly Style Cheesesteak topped with grilled green peppers, mushrooms, onion and a housemade, liquid, four-cheese blend, the absolute winner of the dish. Lefty’s Dearborn’s menu is diverse, offering everything from Chef Danny Saghir’s favorite — a kale salad with cherry tomatoes, cranberries, and walnuts — to corned beef or cheesesteak eggrolls, the latter of which comes with the four-cheese sauce mixed with spicy cherry peppers, a favorite among regulars.
“The cheesesteak eggrolls…I’ve never had anything like that! So good,” said Kimberly Ailes of Dearborn.
All this talk of social media only takes a brand so far, though. On a typical day, diners in the packed restaurant are half-regulars and half first-timers. People aren’t coming to try a one-stop item; they are returning.
“The food still needs to be good,” Zahr said. “People are going to take their friends’ words over Instagram any day.”
That’s why the restaurant focuses on fresh ingredients and making everything in house. The homestyle chicken recipes are made with hand-trimmed, Amish chicken. Hamburgers are never frozen. Mushrooms are hand-sliced. Staff went through eight corned beef suppliers to find the right one, whose deliveries are cooked in house for 4 1/2 hours. Everything is halal.
Lefty’s Dearborn Grill opened in April 2017 as a follow-up to Lefty’s Famous Cheesesteaks and Hoagies in Livonia, which Zahr’s brother-in-law created. But the Dearborn location really came to life with Zahr’s rebranding at the start of the new year. He realized that cheesesteaks alone weren’t working in East Dearborn, where there isn’t a huge lunch crowd and consumers are diverse. A burger joint wouldn’t work either; there were too many already. Zahr turned the problem into an opportunity, resulting in an out-of-the-box, all-encompassing American menu focused on chicken, specialty sandwiches, and wraps, offering a little bit of everything in between.
The changes make a statement about the mindset at Lefty’s Dearborn Grill. An enthusiasm to bring the best and openness to change really brought its success. Even with the glowing reviews, Zahr walks through the casual, red-and-white dining room and asks customers if there is anything that could be better. Even with the food’s popularity, the team is looking for new items to wow its patrons and stay current.
Compared to many small business owners, Zahr doesn’t seem overwhelmed. Working hard, yes, but not in a panic. He attributes this to the confidence in the food and his team, led by Zahr, Saghir and co-owner/manager Ismail Badawi, where everyone from the dishwasher to the cashier is encouraged to give opinions and come up with ideas.
“We try not to micromanage,” Zahr said. “Everybody has their own task because I’m not a good cook, that’s Danny. We trust each other like a family, so we kind of let everybody excel at what they are good at.”
Lefty’s Dearborn Grill could easily become a staple in the community because even though its tables are often full, people stay and hang out, something Zahr intended when he added a television to the front room. The Fordson High School graduate has lived in Dearborn his entire life.
“They (customers) eat and I watch them sit for an hour and just talk,” he said. “That’s what you want. You want people to be comfortable in your establishment. That was a dream for me. I know their brothers and uncles; it’s very tight-knit in Dearborn.”
Hoagies, hamburgers, egg rolls, and fries are all offered on Lefty’s Dearborn Restaurant’s $10 Restaurant Week menu, which ends Feb. 18.
Keep on top of Snapchat (@leftyschzsteaks)and Instagram (@leftysdearborn) to see what tasty menu items Lefty’s Dearborn Grill comes up with next. The business can also be reached at 313-314-8884 for catering or delivery to Dearborn and most of Dearborn Heights.