'Still in shock': Beirut explosion hits home for OKC restaurateur
Richard Moorad's family has lived through a lot in Beirut, but Tuesday's explosion that killed at least 137 and wounded 5,000 in Lebanon's capital city was perhaps the most terrifying moment of all.
"They have lived through 15 years of civil war. They have lived through massive bombings by the Syrians and by the Israelis," said Moorad, founder of Richey's Grill in downtown Oklahoma City. "They have never seen anything like this. They are still in shock."
Moorad, 67, was born in Lebanon and lived in Beirut as a teen. He has one brother and four sisters still living in Beirut and a dozen nephews and nieces in the area. His family was among the injured in Tuesday's explosion.
Moorad's nephew was with his 6-year-old son, who was undergoing a session of chemotherapy treatment, at a hospital less than a mile away from where the explosion occurred.
"The impact of the explosion lifted my nephew and flew him over the room and over his son, saving his son from being hurt worse," Moorad said.
Moorad's nephew suffered a broken arm and rib plus an injury to his leg. Both Moorad's nephew and his son had numerous cuts and bruises, as well.
Two of Moorad's nephews lost their homes in the blast. Lebanese officials have said the gigantic explosion was caused by a fire at a warehouse where 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored for six years.
"It was just all taken out," Moorad said of his nephews' home. "It just doesn't exist anymore."
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By comparison, less than two metric tons of the substance was used in the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City. The detonation in Beirut's port area was felt as far as 150 miles away on the island nation of Cyprus.
Moorad's niece told him the story of her son, who was sitting on the second-story balcony of their home about four miles from the site of the deadly explosion, being blown into the living room. A door came flying off its hinges and struck her, but she will recover, Moorad said.
His family said it seemed like a massive earthquake. Now, Moorad worries about the future of Lebanon. The country's economy already was crumbling, and now it is looking at billions of dollars to repair the damages.
"It's very tough in Lebanon right now," Moorad said.
Moorad left Lebanon a half-century ago at age 17 to join family in Oklahoma. He graduated from Anadarko High School then attended Central State University in Edmond, now the University of Central Oklahoma.
His aunt paid his college tuition while he earned spending money working for Eddy's Steakhouse in Oklahoma, his first foray into the restaurant business. He met his wife, Carol, and his best friend, Joseph Haddad, at college.
Moorad owned a couple of coffee shops and worked at Big Ed's Hamburgers, where he said he learned to sling a good hamburger, before starting his first Richey's restaurant in 1980 at NW 14th and Classen. Richey's Grill in the Oklahoma Tower is the fourth Richey's restaurant, opening 21 years ago after Clay Bennett and Dorchester Capital acquired the property.
Moorad said he went to Bennett and persuaded him that the building needed a good family restaurant. He promised Bennett he would stay a long time.
"I kept my promise," Moorad said.
Richey's Grill is still going strong in the Oklahoma Tower, serving primarily an American menu but complementing it with traditional Lebanese dishes. Moorad has sold the restaurant to his best friend's son, Michael Haddad.
Moorad, whom Haddad calls "Uncle Richard," is staying on until May to help with the transition. Haddad has a long resume of culinary experience, but his first job in the restaurant business was at age 11 at Richey's. Moorad said Haddad is the perfect person to continue Richey's legacy in Oklahoma City.
Moorad has been a fixture in the Lebanese community for decades, said Oklahoma City attorney Mickey Homsey, a regular customer of Richey's Grill. Homsey attends church with Moorad, who has been a member of the St. Elijah Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Oklahoma City since 1971.
"Everybody loves Richey," Homsey said. "He's forever taking food to the church for one deal or another. He is well-known and well-loved, without a doubt."
Haddad grew up attending church at St. Elijah thinking everyone was related. The Lebanese community in Oklahoma City is small but close-knit.
"I am proud to be an American, but I am also proud to have that Lebanese heritage in me," Moorad said.