The payoff

Family brings Middle Eastern cuisine to the Summit City

A kabob plate featuring chicken and beef. photography by Neal Bruns
Falafels with Famous Falafel’s garlic sauce. photography by Neal Bruns

They took a risk.

And a big one at that.

Brothers Nawar and Faqar Saleh were living a relatively idyllic life in Michigan up until late last year. Their parents, who hail from Iraq, had come to the states decades ago and eventually settled in Dearborn – which is just outside of Detroit – partly due to its large Arab-American and Muslim population.

There, Nawar thrived as a chef, making everything from pasta to sushi until the family began running a successful sub sandwich shop dubbed Tony’s. But at its heart, just like its name, that shop was never really who the Saleh brothers were.

“There came a time where we knew, this just isn’t our thing,” Faqar Saleh said.

So Nawar began scouting out locations for what would be their thing – a restaurant featuring the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine they grew up making and eating at home. Somehow, he found a little spot for rent in the Marketplace of Canterbury in Fort Wayne.

This is how Famous Falafel was born.

“It took us three months of painting to get this ready,” Faqar says, motioning to the neat and artsy decor of the inside of the restaurant, highlighted by red paint and white floors. “The walls were green and orange when we started.”

Famous Falafel opened its doors on Christmas Eve and has been the talk of restaurant-goers in this town ever since. With its offerings of tabbouleh salads, kabobs, shawarma and, of course, falafels, the brothers Saleh are bringing food that has almost been unheard of here in Fort Wayne.

Which made the idea of leaving a place where their culture is much more front-and-center – Dearborn is home of the nation’s largest mosque – even riskier than at first blush. Especially when they factored in moving to a traditionally conservative town in the wake of a very heated presidential election.

“It was a little nerve-wracking,” said Faqar, who acts as a manager for the restaurant. “We were nervous. We didn’t know what was going to happen, and we didn’t know what to expect.”

What they found, Faqar says, is a community that welcomed the restaurant – and his family – with open arms.

People came in that very first night on Christmas Eve, and they haven’t stopped coming since.

They come for the delicious beef and chicken shawarma spread over a bed of rice. They come for the chicken kafta, the tender kabob plates and the crunchy-on-the-outside but creamy-in-the-middle falafels. There’s even a specialty falafel burger, for those with a huge appetite.

Nawar created the entire menu, according to Faqar, and the whole family helps out in the kitchen. Sauces are made in-house, and on one recent visit by staff of Fort Wayne Magazine the family was happy to bring plate after plate after plate of food for the tasting, though no stomach could put that much away.

“This is how we are in our culture,” said Faqar, looking at a table full of food.

The family takes pride in giving people good eats and more. They love surprising people who may have never tasted Middle Eastern food, showing them how diverse the dishes can be – especially desserts like the pudding and kanafeh.

“We want everybody to tell their friends after they eat here,” Faqar says. “This is our baby.”

In a sense, they found a new home, a new place to thrive and a new place to live their dream.

The risk paid off.

Famous Falafel

5755 St. Joe Road
(260) 492-8349
Find us on Facebook
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.- Thurs.; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
Specialties: Mediterranean cuisine including falafels, kabobs, kafta plates, shawarma

First appeared in the May 2017 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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