UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. — By 1:15 p.m. on a Friday, Mohammed Qadadeh thought the lunch rush would be over.
Not by a long shot.
Nearly a week after American Falafel opened on St. Louis’ Delmar Loop, Qadadeh’s restaurant remains a hub of activity. One minute Qadadeh is packing falafel into takeout boxes. The next, he’s walking a young couple through the menu, full of words like tabbouleh and baba ganoush. Then it’s time to spray tables with an extra-strength cleaning solution.
“I thought we’d be sitting here, not doing anything,” Qaddadeh said. “But it’s like a hundred times better than I projected.”
This all started because Qadadeh, a former vice president at Mastercard, missed the food from his native Jordan. More than 20 years after moving to St. Louis, he decided to do something about it. There was just one speed bump — coronavirus.
Qadadeh had spent two years planning his restaurant. He finally left his job in late 2019, and formed American Falafel LLC on Jan. 1, 2020. He signed the lease on March 1, just weeks before St. Louis County closed dine-in service in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Qadadeh had wanted to open in early April, but that plan ground to a halt. He tried to apply for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, but couldn’t qualify because the restaurant had no payroll records. While Qadadeh waited, he and head chef Feras Baidon worked on the menu — tweaking recipes, holding more taste tests, even adding new items.
After St. Louis County reopened dine-in service on May 18, Qadadeh decided it was time. He opened American Falafel on May 30. The restaurant offers spaced indoor and outdoor seating, employees wear masks and Qadadeh cleans relentlessly.
A 25% capacity requirement means American Falafel’s indoor space holds just five to seven customers. Nonetheless, business is booming.
“The response has been fantastic,” Qadadeh said. “We were kind of worried because of the pandemic, but … it’s been way beyond our expectations.”
A few days ago, he even sold out of falafel sandwiches and hummus. Qadadeh said the restaurant’s food is particularly authentic because it uses imported machinery from Jordan.
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