From Damascus to Princeton: Mamoun’s Falafel opens biggest locale yet
When Mamoun Chater left his hometown of Damascus, Syria for the United States in the late 1960’s, he was struggling to bring food to his own table – so he started bringing it to others. Chater opened New York City’s first falafel restaurant in 1971 at 119 MacDougal Street, introducing Greenwich Village to authentic Middle-Eastern cuisine.
It was the typical immigrant’s story, his youngest son Hassam said over the afternoon buzz of customers, a means to an end. Nearly 50 years and many long shifts later, Mamoun’s has become a signature Village destination and opened its sixth location at 20 Witherspoon Street in Princeton.
“My father was a very charismatic, hard working person,” Hassam said, noting that customers from all kinds of backgrounds enjoyed Mamoun’s because of its pure atmosphere. “He was very genuine in what he did and he worked extremely hard. I think people really fed off and appreciated that.”
While Hassam and his brothers run Mamoun’s New York and most New Jersey branches, their cousins are in charge of the locale in New Haven, Connecticut. Three of Hassam’s nephews work part time at the Princeton branch.
“I probably wouldn’t be in this business if not for my brothers,” Hassam said of the restaurant’s family ownership, adding that he was raised with his three older siblings to value close family ties. “Having my brothers by my side and working with them is truly what makes this the brand that it is.”
Although family values, a strong work ethic and attention to service propel the business forward, Hassam says the key to the restaurant’s success comes down to their products.
Mamoun’s isn’t all about the falafel – a fried mixture of chickpeas, onion, parsley, garlic and spices – but also offers hummus, meat kebobs, spinach pie, a range of pastries and other Middle Eastern delicacies. Everything at Mamoun’s is fresh and made from scratch, Hassam said, a principle instilled in the family business through their father.
After Mamoun opened the two original locales in Greenwich Village and New Haven, his sons decided to expand the business to New Jersey, setting their sights on Hoboken, New Brunswick and Princeton from the beginning.
“My brothers and I grew up predominantly in New Jersey,” Hassam explained, adding that opening the Princeton restaurant in October 2014 seemed like a natural step. “Princeton’s a beautiful place. It has a very diverse atmosphere and the people here appreciate a lot of cultures. It’s the perfect market for our brand.”
Hassam noted that the Princeton locale tends to accommodate larger groups because of its ample seating, and that Princeton generally has a more laid back atmosphere than New York.
The company does not have any concrete expansion plans as of yet, but a new branch in Philadelphia remains a possibility.
“We’re always open to expansion provided that we can stay true to the concept, stay true to the brand and keep the quality of food that we provide,” Hassam said, adding that most of their efforts are currently centered on smoothing operations in Princeton.
Hassam also said that expansions would probably involve recruiting business managers from outside the family.
“Of course we still want to stay true to our culture and what our brand is about, which is offering quality food, exceptional customer service, and just a good environment,” Hassam said.
The new Chater generation is at ten and growing, but the children are still too young to contemplate the restaurant business, Hassam noted. For now, their focus is on education.
“Ultimately, the restaurant business is an integral part of our family history and it’s important that our kids understand and appreciate it.”
The business is not only about family, but also keeping Mamoun’s legacy alive through hard work and a genuine atmosphere, Hassam said.
“We like to keep it simple.”