WGBH's Henry Santoro interviewed Chef Jay Hajj, from Boston's Mike's City Diner. Below is a lightly edited transcription of their conversation.

Henry Santoro: If there's one person in Boston who knows firsthand what the refugees of Syria and Egypt are going through right now, it's Jay Hajj. In the 1970s, Jay and his family made their way out of war-torn Beirut and settled in Boston. Boston has really benefited by their escape. Why you ask? Well because Jay Hajj is the chef and owner of Mike's City Diner in Boston’s South end. It is an institution. Recipes from Mike's City Diner are in “Beirut to Boston: A Cookbook, Comfort Food Inspired by a Rags to Restaurant Story." That book is written by Jay, and it’s so great to see you again.

Jay Hajj: Thank you very much Henry. Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure.

HS: And we should begin by saying that you and I first met at a food event I hosted at the Boston Public Library just recently and believe you me when you meet Jay Hajj you'll swear you've known this guy for years. ... You know it's just that smile, that personality. You have chosen the perfect business.

JH: Yeah, I do. I really love my business and thank God for that. That's the only thing I'm good at.

HS: Your friend and mine, Boston restaurant critic Matt Schaefer, sums up your book and you quite perfectly, I might add. He says that your story and your food are both inspiring and delicious. Tell us the feeling you had leaving Lebanon and then why you chose Boston.

JH: I was eight years old when we left Lebanon. And actually you know back then I was extremely excited. Your whole family — our whole family, my father — had come in a little bit earlier to find an apartment and a job maybe a year earlier. It wasn't supposed to be that long but the feeling was it was great going to America and everything is going to be beautiful. Well, you know it was great.

HS: And why Boston?

JH: Well my father did look at Canada and Connecticut, and we did have a lot more relatives in Boston and that's where he found his job and settled in Boston. I can't imagine living anywhere.

HS: I just said Boston is better for your arrival. Chapter one of the book "Beirut to Boston" begins with Bill Clinton's Southern style breakfast included. The story is a photo of President Clinton, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino. The three of them sitting at a table at your restaurant, Mike's City Diner. Describe the feeling that you had when those three-walked in. And also tell us [how] does a guy like you [wind up] making a Southern style breakfast? We should say it was smoked ham and eggs with grits and cornbread. What was that feeling like?

JH: It was incredible. First of all … sitting with the president of the United States. Never mind. You know also Sen. Kennedy and me. I mean, it was incredible. ... It took a while actually to soak in. I was more excited about it a week later, and I finally realized what happened. It was really incredible.

HS: And Tom Menino — speaking of big fans Tom Mayor Tom Menino was a massive fan of mine.

JH: He was the nicest ever. He was a fan of Mike's and back then you got to think that Washington Street was undeveloped ... and it was getting developed and it was all boarded up. So he made it his mission to rebuild Washington Street, and he did. And look at it now.

HS: Jay Hajj is the chef owner of Mike's City Diner and the author of "Beirut to Boston" a cookbook. Thank you.

JH: That is so nice. This was absolutely great. Your stories are incredible, thank you. I'm so grateful. Thank you so much, Henry. 

HS: I'm Henry Santoro, and this is WGBH's WEEKEND EDITION.

To listen to the entire interview, click on the audio file above.