Today we’d like to introduce you to Zahra Kamda and Shadi Ardekani.
Zahra and Shadi, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Zahra Kamdar: If I think about my 19-year- old self, I would have never imagined that 10 years from then that I would own my own business at the age of 29, let alone a restaurant! I had been with my company for about 3 years and realized that I was bored – I did everything that I could possibly do within that job position and realized I needed more. I decided my quit my research job and go to Europe for a few weeks and stay in Dubai for another few weeks. That is when the idea of Just Falafel came to life.
My brother and his friends came across this concept in Dubai and immediately fell in love with. The idea behind this restaurant is really JUST falafel and what twists can be done to it (i.e. the Egyptian, the American, etc.). We wanted to see how we could bring this unique concept into Houston because it was so hard to find a good falafel normally they are very dry or hard or just gross! My brother, his friends, and myself decided to invest in Just Falafel and bring it to Houston – mind you, with no experience in starting a business! So, we opened in March of 2015 in the downtown tunnels not knowing really what to expect, and it was insane! We had a line wrapping along the walls of the food court of people just waiting and wanting to try us out.
From then until now, we have definitely evolved as a restaurant – we now have fresher, better quality ingredients, and it is seen within our food product and our happy customers. Although we have faced some challenges along the way, I am very grateful for the people around me (my business partners) and more recently, Shadi Ardekani, who has been consulting with us over the past few months.
Shadi Ardekani: I came across Just Falafel when I was first trying to find a falafel that reminded me of home, and trust me that is hard to find. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to create a food item that is so insanely popular in the Middle East; it was very unfortunate. As you can see, I am not born in the states – originally, I from Amman, Jordan and moved to Houston a few years ago when my wife had an amazing opportunity with Shell.
Since moving to Houston, I gained a lot of experience in the hotel industry with my position at Hotel Derek as Director of Revenue. After a while, however, I realized that I wanted more than that, I really wanted to start my own business, and I did. I partnered with a local chef to create a gourmet burger food truck. I thought that this would be my opportunity to not only start my own business, but do what I love – cook!
Unfortunately, this venture did not work out and I left in search for something else, and a few months later I came across this gem.
I approached Zahra, the owner, raving about how amazing her falafel was and if I could sit down with her and see if she had any opportunity for me to be part of. After sitting down and hearing her story, I think we both realized that this partnership had a lot of potential, and from then on I have been consulting and providing feedback and tools on how she can grow herself and her business and what potential Just Falafel really has!
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
We would love to be able to say that it was all smooth sailing for us from the beginning, but as is the case with almost any new restaurant venture, we had to endure many bumps in the road.
Introducing a new and unique concept is often a challenging endeavor as it is, but for us it was particularly difficult given that we began as an ambitious, home-grown brand from the Middle East – a very different market in terms of consumer type and taste preferences.
It was clear to us that there was a gap in the marketplace for clean, fresh Mediterranean food – a stark contrast from the bland and dull offerings of what we often see today.
And we knew that Houston was an ideal location for us to enter the US market given its diversity and passion for a wide variety of quality cuisine. But this obvious opportunity to fill a void is where our single biggest challenge presented itself.
While we understood that we would have to adapt to our new environment and customer base, we wanted to ensure that we remained true to our ethos of serving the highest quality food with the freshest, locally-sourced ingredients.
A perfect example of this is the fact that we started off serving just falafel – as in ONLY falafel – a tribute to our namesake. As you can imagine, we needed to quickly address the carnivorous market that is Houston. And so, we spent significant time and resources to add scratch-made chicken, as well as hormone-free beef and lamb to our menu.
There were a lot of details involved with this process but let’s just say this was not an easy task and it became even more intriguing as we refined our flavor profile numerous times until we knew we got it right all the while staying honest to our roots and our overall concept.
As they say, the “proof is in the pudding” or in our case, the Tzatziki sauce! We are very proud of what we have been able to achieve over the past 2 years and that is all due to our loyal customer base who have come to appreciate the finest and freshest Mediterranean food in the city (and perhaps the Universe?).
Please tell us about Just Falafel.
Just Falafel falls under the following categories: Halal, Vegan/Vegetarian, Mediterranean.
What sets us apart from others is our home cooked flavor and quality food. At Just Falafel, we pride ourselves not just in the quality of our ingredients, but also in the cleanliness of our kitchen and quality control. We follow very high standards which shows in every aspect that you get during the Just Falafel experience.
What is really unique about our ordering is the variety of sauces (16 to be exact!) that you can choose from, and most of which are made in-house from scratch. Not only does this allow the customer knowledge of every ingredient, but also allows us to control the calorie count as much as we can, because we know that people enjoy delicious food that is also healthy.
We do also offer a lot of appetizers like: Hand Cut Fries, Loaded Fries with Chopped Beef and Cheddar Cheese and House Ranch (yum!), Truffle Fries with Parmesan Cheese, Falafels, Tabbouleh, etc. As you can see, we have something for everyone!
We also offer delicious Milkshakes and Floats – and we are famous for our Red Velvet Shake and our Nutella Quesadillas (Texas twist on your standard dessert)!
We are a growing brand and are proud of what we offer; we love when we can have others enjoy what we offer, which is why we love catering for our customers! We can cater for all types of meetings and events, and we are very flexible to work with any budget, which is why people love to work with us because we can offer them what they want for a price that makes them happy.
We are currently in the process of looking for a second location for Just Falafel, and hopefully we will be open by the end of the year; it’s super exciting!
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Zahra Kamdar: My favorite childhood memory, and still a current experience, is travelling the world and experiencing different cultures. I love immersing myself into different experiences and getting a sense of people through their daily adventures and amazing food.
The funny thing is that before I would eat without experiencing the food, and now when I bite into anything, my mouth fills with flavors and I sit there trying to figure out how I can make this myself – sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes I drive myself crazy trying to figure out that one particular spice!
Shadi Ardekani: One of my favorite childhood memories is when I used to go with my family to Gerard’s Ice Cream in Amman. As a kid, watching them create these awesome big scoops of chocolate, along with all the other flavors always left me mesmerized, and very hungry even though I could never finish the whole thing!
- Entree (Wrap or Bowl) with Protein $8.00
- Sides $3.00
- Beverage $2.00
- Address: 500 Dallas St, Suite T20-B
Houston, Texas 77002
- Website: www.jfhouston.com
- Phone: 8327425990
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jf_houstontx/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JustFalafelHouston
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/JFHoustonTX
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/just-falafel-houston