After becoming friends while attending high school in Damascus, Syria, Omar Alsaadi and Mouhanad Kabbani separately immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, only to reconnect and support one another in their lifelong dream of opening a restaurant.
Pita Chip, a Middle Eastern restaurant located on Broad Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue, opened in August 2015 as a testament to Alsaadi and Kabbani’s decades-long friendship. Sticking to their Arabic roots, the restaurant provides an American twist on some of their favorite dishes from their home country of Syria, according to Pita Chip’s website.
Alsaadi learned to cook from his mother, who used encyclopedias to learn about preparing everything from French to Greek cuisine, according to Pita Chip’s website. He moved to the U.S. in 1979 to flee uprisings in the Middle East and pursue his education at the University of Texas at Austin, where he developed a reputation for making delicious food for his friends, he said.
“I like to cook,” Alsaadi said. “I enjoy it, and I learned a lot of it from my mother. We cooked together, we did a lot of dishes together, and she liked to cook too, so it’s got a lot to do with family.”
Kabbani came to the U.S. one year after Alsaadi, Alsaadi said. The two were owners of 7-Eleven franchises for many years after moving to America. Alsaadi spent his days as a franchisee experimenting with ideas and food recipes, which eventually inspired him to open the first Pita Chip location at age 55.
After struggling to figure out where to find food and equipment for their new location, they met Howard Klayman, who became their third business partner in 2017. In 2018, the three partners opened a second location in University City because they felt their food fit the college demographic and wanted to expand their services to other local universities.
Today, the business is centered not only on the friendship between Alsaadi and Kabbani but on the bond between their children.
“Our kids grow up together, actually his kids and my kids are friends,” Alsaadi said. “They both work, they all work at one point or another in the business, so it’s an extension of our friendship that’s been since high school.”
Alsaadi’s children have aided in maintaining Pita Chip over the years with website design, outreach and making food whenever needed.
After graduating from Temple University in 2013 with a degree in psychology, Rend Alsaadi spent five years working and living in Washington D.C. as a junior software developer while still helping his father with managing Pita Chip’s website, he said. Last year, Rend Alsaadi began working at their location on Broad Street full-time, as a manager, to help his family’s business grow, he added.
“It’s my family’s business, so you’re wearing a lot of hats,” Rend Alsaadi said.
Rend Alsaadi admires his father’s hard work and dedication, as it is a joint effort to manage both locations and provide customer service, Rend Alsaadi said.
“It’s very intimate because you’re making a lot of key decisions about the business and its growth together,” Rend Alsaadi said. “It’s your family business so the highs are high and the lows can be a little but lower because you’re dealing with something that’s your familys’, not just a regular corporate job.”
This sentiment extends to people outside of the Alsaadi family, as many of the employees feel the sense of community and friendship that Pita Chip creates.
Gwen Ward started working at Pita Chip’s Temple location as a food preparer in September 2020. She is currently working towards a certificate in behavioral health and human services at the Community College of Philadelphia and enjoys the family atmosphere, and the amount of support her bosses at Pita Chip provide her with, she said.
“They’re just wonderful people,” Ward said. “They have helped me out in so many ways just as a person. Honestly, I’ve worked a good amount of jobs, I even had a second job for a while over the summer, but I ended up leaving just to come and stay here.”