Izat Eliyan graduated from Golden Gate University in 1995, with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration. While getting his degree, Izat managed La Burrrita, with his brother Walid in 1993. While managing La Burrita, Izat became the owner of one of Berkeley’s oldest pizzerias, La Val’s, in 2000.
Inspired by his father, Izat ventured into the restaurant industry with the dreams bringing flavors of Palestine to the Bay Area. Izat established his first Middle Eastern restaurant, D’yar (loosely translated to “my homeland” in Arabic) in 2007. With the support of the community and D’yar’s popularity, Izat opened D’yar II in 2012. Izat designed the concept of Zaytoon with his brother Walid and friends Haitham & Walid, in 2014. He later opened Zaytoon in 2016.
owner · sous chef
Walid Eliyan is part owner and sous chef at Zaytoon. He studied Small Business Management at San Francisco State University in 1980. In 1984, Walid marked his first experience in the food industry and opened North Point Deli in Fisherman’s Wharf. He sold North Point in 1988 and bought La Burrita on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley. That same year, Walid immediately opened E-Z Stop Deli on Shattuck. Walid decided to open a second La Burrita on Durant Avenue in 1989 with his hometown friend and college roommate Salam Nasser.
Walid left the US for Jordan in 1993, leaving his businesses to his youngest brother Izat. While in Jordan, Walid became a real estate developer and started a small building company. He returned to Albany in 2014 and decided that Albany would be a great location for a Mediterranean restaurant. He convinced Izat to purchase Solano Grill and Bar in 2015 and they created Zaytoon as an homage to their Mediterranean and Middle Eastern roots.
owner · executive chef
As a teenager, Haitham began waiting tables at King David Hotel in Jerusalem. In 1995, he studied computer engineering but left school to pursue his passion for cooking. He became the general manager of South Beach Restaurant in Tel Aviv in 1997. He spent much of his time as the general manager in the kitchen, creating new dishes inspired by his Palestinian roots. Haitham left Tel Aviv for the US and established roots in New York during the early 2000s. He became a chef at Zaytoons, a popular Middle Eastern restaurant in Brooklyn, and helped Zaytoons establish two locations in Prospect Heights. Haitham left the Big Apple and cooked at Alyans, a Mediterranean eatery in Philadelphia. In 2008, Haitham moved to the Bay Area to work with Izat and Walid to manage D’yar in Berkeley.
Haitham combines his love for Middle Eastern home cooking with the urban street fares of Tel Aviv, and works to elevate his appreciation for both worlds.
owner · chef
Salam Nasser is part owner of Zaytoon. He emigrated from Palestine to Kuwait, where he spent most of his youth. He studied Business Administration at San Francisco State in 1980 and became college roommates with his childhood friend Walid. While in school, Salam worked several jobs (cab driver, grocery store clerk, and gas station attendant) to support himself financially.
In 1989, Salam reconnected with Walid and the two of them opened La Burrita. This was Salam’s first restaurant and he knew that there would be a learning curve in understanding the food industry. In 2008, Salam joined with Izat in opening D’yar II, where he spends much of his time operating.
Cynthia Olivas is the General Manager of Zaytoon Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar. With over twenty years of fine dining and bartending expertise (Four Seasons, House of Prime Rib, and Town Hall), Cynthia is an integral part of Zaytoon’s success.
With industry standards developed from her global travels and culinary experiences, Cynthia elevates Zaytoon into the casual fine dining realm and helps set it apart from the familiar grab and go shawarma stop. Cynthia continuously showcases the richness of the Mediterranean through Zaytoon’s eclectic wine and cocktail menu. With her guidance, guest can visit Greece with the Assyritiko or venture off into Lebanon through the popular Levantine anise-liqueur, Arak.
Cynthia currently bartends at the Hotsy Totsy. She is mentored by Jessica Maria (owner of the Hotsy Tosty club), who created the foundation for Zaytoon’s bar program and inspired cocktails like the Midnight on Solano and Sultan’s Iced Tea. The Albany Chamber of Commerce nominated Zaytoon for the Best Dinner Spot, Best Cocktails, and Best Happy Hour in 2017.
Vivian Onuoha is the Operations Manager of Zaytoon. She has over 10 years of restaurant and management experience. Vivian fostered her passion for the food industry while working with her mother, who catered African events in the Bay Area.
In 2009, Vivian met Izat while studying Chemical Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She worked at La Val’s Pizza, as a cashier and later managed account receivables. As a student, she became a head chef and assistant facilities manager at a large cooperative living community in Berkeley, where she shared her take on Afro-Caribbean, South Asian, and Mediterranean cuisines. Vivian spent three years as a board member for a national anti-oppression and education nonprofit based in Chicago. As a vice president and director of the board, she has presented her research on race relations, affordable housing, and food justice across the US.
She has a degree in mathematics from California State University, East Bay, and she recently completed a master’s of science in business analytics.