Daily Princetonian pieces

NEWS: Princeton branch of falafel restaurant Mamoun’s in permit process, may open in January

Originally published Tuesday, Oct. 15 at The Daily Princetonian.

New York-based falafel restaurant Mamoun’s may open its Princeton location in January, owner Hussam Chater said Tuesday.

Chater, who now oversees all aspects of his father Mamoun’s business with his brothers Kinan, Galal and Nedal, had previously estimated a fall 2013 opening date for the newest branch of his family’s restaurant chain. Mamoun’s serves Middle Eastern cuisine, including falafel and shawarma sandwiches, tabbouleh and baba ghanoush at budget prices, according to its website.

The Princeton restaurant will occupy the storefront at 20 Witherspoon St. between the Subway sandwich shop and local Greek deli Olives. The family purchased the building last year, the Times of Trenton reported in July, and has received approval from the town’s Historic Preservation Commission to figure out how its storefront might conform with town standards for historical buildings.

“We’re in the permit process right now, and we’re hoping for a quick turnaround so we can begin construction,” Chater said. “We’d love to open as soon as possible, but with the way construction processes go, realistically we’ll be opening in January.”

The new falafel restaurant will be opening on the site of what used to be a mattress store. Converting that “clean slate” space to a restaurant will take more time in permit-processing than expected, Chater explained.

The Princeton restaurant will be the chain’s sixth location, after its flagship location, one more New York City location on St. Mark’s Place, one location in Hoboken, one in New Haven, Conn. and one in New Brunswick. Chater said he expects the Princeton restaurant to look more like the chain’s roomier Hoboken and New Haven locations than its smaller New York City “hole-in-the-wall” falafel joints, but he added that the Princeton location will “look fancier than Hoboken.”

“In all other locations, we were always constrained by the site we had and the way the spot was built, but here we have an empty slate,” Chater said. “We have a lot more to work with.”

Expanding to Princeton has always been a goal, Chater said.

“If we had a choice, we probably would’ve opened in Princeton first,” he said, “but space and opportunity as it turns out was more available in the city.”

“It’s a very special town,” Chater added. “It’s got a lot of history, a lot of robustness.”

The Mamoun’s business model is ideally suited for college towns, Chater said. One of the locations in New York City is located near the campus of New York University, the New Brunswick location is next to Rutgers University and the New Haven location is close to Yale University.

“Our brand is a simple, home-like environment,” Chater said. “I think college towns appreciate it, and older generations do as well.”

Chater also said he hoped prices at the Princeton location would be “very, very close, if not the same, to prices in the city,” but added that it would depend on how market conditions develop once the restaurant has opened.

“Hopefully volume is the same as in New York City and we’re able to keep the prices the same,” Chater said, “but unfortunately it’s very hard to replicate the volume of people who come through in the city at these locations.”

A falafel sandwich at Mamoun’s in New Haven and New Brunswick currently costs $3.50, according to menus on Mamoun’s website. The same sandwich costs $3.00 at both New York City locations and in Hoboken.

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