Italian pizza, Mexican burritos and Chinese egg rolls are staples on any American college campus. But Omar Alsaadi and Mike Kabbani have set out to “Americanize” Mediterranean cuisine, starting on Main Campus.
Alsaadi and Kabbani are the owners of Pita Chip, a new restaurant on Broad Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue. They chose this location as soon as it opened, as Temple has always been where they wanted to begin this business.
“If you aren’t going to make it on a college campus, forget it,” Alsaadi said. “You’re not going to make it anywhere.”
Pita Chip’s menu includes different Middle-Eastern dishes in a “build your own” model—choose an entrée, a protein or veggie and the toppings. These dishes include chicken and beef shawarma, which is a popular method of cooking the meats on a vertical stack for full flavor. Both Alsaadi and Kabbani are familiar with these dishes since they immigrated from Syria.
“It’s authentic with American twist—you don’t see all of these toppings when you go to a shawarma place or falafel place back home in Syria,” said Anas Kabbani, son of Mike Kabbani and manager of Pita Chip, who plans to transfer to Temple next year from Bucks County Community College. “It’s literally, you get a meat, a sauce and a pickle. That’s it, that’s literally all they put on it.”
The store has been open since late July, and has already established regular customers and people who recognize the authenticity of their Mediterranean meals.
“People who have tried it like it, they keep coming back,” Anas Kabbani said.
“We have people bringing their families who are originally from the Middle East, like we had a family from New Jersey come yesterday, they drove 45 minutes because this is the closest thing to authentic that they could find,” he added.
Many vegetarians and vegans have also been able to find tasty meals at Pita Chip, Anas Kabbani said. Some of their popular vegetarian food options are the falafel and the grilled veggies.
“There’s not much for them [at Temple] unless they make their food themselves,” he said. “So we have vegetarians and vegans—I have some that come in daily because it’s the only thing they can eat they don’t have to make.”
Pita Chip is also not the families’ first collaborative business venture. They co-own two 7-Elevens and two gas stations in Bucks County.
Shanna Moser, a second year graduate student in Temple’s business sports program, goes to Pita Chip a couple times a week with her coworkers from the athletic department.
“It’s fresh food, it’s a lot healthier than a lot of the other options around here,” Moser said. “And I’m very picky; I get the same thing every time. So I think that by having that option that I can just get hummus, I was definitely like, ‘Yes, sign me up!’”
Alsaadi said this restaurant is a stepping stone for opening more of these restaurants on other college campuses in Philadelphia, if it is successful on Temple’s campus.
“To be honest, my goal eventually … [is] that this food become as mainstream in the American society as pizza, Chinese food or Mexican food,” Alsaadi said.
“It’s like hummus—when I came, nobody knew what hummus is but now you walk in every supermarket and you see it in all the shelves and it’s advertised on TV and that still hasn’t reached really main stream, but still people ask what that is,” he added.
“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Is this a Middle Eastern food, an Israeli food?’ I always like to say, ‘It’s our food. It belongs to everybody.’”
Gilliam McGoldrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video shot Jenny Kerrigan and edited by Sean Brown.