Interview by Khaled Elsayed
Since the day it appeared in New York City, Mamoun’s has been a crowd favorite. The City is packed with Middle Eastern food spots, but this hole in the wall is a cut above the rest. The taste is unique, and rumor has it the founder’s mother taught him how to cook over the phone. Nevertheless, her telecommunicated recipes proved potent—the near-constant line in front of Mamoun’s is a testament to that. We spent a few minutes behind the counter speaking with current owner Nidal Chater while he was hard at work serving up falafel, shawarma, and other delicacies.
Nidal Chater: Alright, here you go, boss. One falafel, one baba.
Frank151: Start off by introducing yourself.
NC: Hi, my name is Nidal Chater, and I’m Mamoun’s son.
Tell us about the history of Mamoun’s and how you guys ended up here in the West Village.
My dad actually ended up here. He was going to Columbia University, and when the money ran out, he decided he had to work. So he worked as an employee for a few months, and then he had a chance to buy this store. He bought the store, and the rest is, like they say, history.
Did he ever think it was going be what it is now?
Well, yeah. My dad always thinks he’s gonna be successful. Whatever you put into it is what you get. We put a lot into it. So the fact that it’s successful is no surprise. Alright. Two falafels to go….
Why do you think falafel is popular in the City right now?
I don’t know. Basically, we sell a lot because they’re cheap and good.
How has the neighborhood changed from when you first opened to what it is now?
It’s basically the same. It’s almost the same. Nothing’s changed. The Village has been the same. Next. …Two falafels? To stay here, or to go?
So you guys are known for being open at like three…four in the morning, people rushing in when the clubs close, drunk.
Can you explain that situation? What does it look like?
Well, you gotta be here to experience it, really. I can’t explain it. Just drunken people that are hungry. But anyway, we know what we’re doing, so we know how to take care of that. Two falafels. That’s it? Five dollars.
Customer: I just waited like, 30 seconds.
NC: Yeah, well…I’m sorry. The guys are kinda tired today.
As the first falafel spot in New York, how do you think Arab culture is blending into the City?
Yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s blending in. It’s just like any generation now. We’re dealing with a second generation, so I think we are apt to how American pop culture is. So…I don’t know what to say, but I guess we still have our Middle Eastern thing going.
Do you think falafel will be adopted as American in the next ten…15…20 years?
I hope so! I’m gonna try to do that. I’m gonna try and open a whole bunch of them in the next ten years and see how that goes. Yes? What will you guys have?
Tell me about your other spots. I know you have one in New Haven.
Yeah, New Haven was opened in ’77, which is really Mamoun’s brother. Then I opened one up in the East Village about three years ago.
What’s in the future for Mamoun’s? What’s gonna happen next?
I don’t know. I’m thinking of opening up a few spots in Jersey, or franchising…I don’t know. I’m thinking about that now.
Did you think of combining a club with Mamoun’s, so that people could just—
Nah, nah, not really. No. I like to have the traditional environment here. What happens in the clubs, I don’t…[laughs].