IF YOU GO
What: Kabob-ster Middle Eastern Gourmet
Where: 1408 Gunbarrel Rd., Chattanooga
When: Open Mon.- Sat., 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A dozen representatives from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce this week huddled in front of Kabob-sters to officially welcome the Middle Eastern restaurant to Chattanooga.
Inside, a sampling of the restaurant's menu was laid out for the guests as a colorful smorgasbord of hummus, bread, exotic vegetables, grilled chicken and some dishes the average Chattanoogan maybe has never seen or heard of.
But that's OK, say Mounir Minkara and Tarek Forgani, partners in the venture and natives of Lebanon and Libya, respectively. They know Middle Eastern cuisine is lacking in Chattanooga's food scene. Until now.
"I believe it was limited, maybe," Minkara said.
Part of the concern in the past was that Chattanooga was still too much of a small Southern city to support a Middle Eastern restaurant, he said.
But now, "with the international community coming" Minkara believes the time is right for his and Forgani's venture.
So far, the Scenic City has proved him right.
Kabob-sters opened six months ago in a strip of commercial space at the intersection of Gunbarrel and East Brainerd Roads. The "Gunbarrel Galleria" is also home to a Quick Credit store and a Curves fitness center. The last storefront in the strip is still available.
Pat Mahery, a Chamber member on hand at Monday's ceremony, said Kabob-ster's has scored an advantageous location, especially as road-front property in that area of town disappears.
"They've just about built everything they can build between here and Shallowford," he said. "The empty lots you'll see along Gunbarrel, they're few and far between."
Kabob-ster's menu follows the guidelines of Halal, the dietary restrictions laid down for Muslims in the Quran, which closely resembles the Kosher laws given to Jews in the Tanakh.
But Minkara and Forgani don't want non-Jewish or Muslim foodies to be deterred.
"It's not only geared toward that," said Forgani.
In fact, the Kabob-sters menu features dishes appropriate for dieters of all stripes, with a number of vegan and vegetarian plates, salads and wraps. But there are things for meat lovers, too, like chicken and beef kabobs, gyros, wraps and plates.
And not all the food is completely foreign. Kabob-sters serves up a few hummus dishes, a couple of salad options and burgers and fries on the kids' menu.
Minkara and Forgani each have full-time jobs outside of the restaurant. Minkara is the City of Chattanooga's water quality manager and Forgani works at Miller Davis Group, a Chattanooga rug business, and is a general contractor on the side. Both say Kabob-sters is a side project, and not one that will become full-time.
"It's like a hobby I guess, turned into a business," said Minkara.
He said cooking is in his blood, his family having owned a Middle Eastern restaurant in Atlanta some years ago. Fargoni actually jumped on board as partner as Minkara was putting Kabob-sters together.
"I never thought I'd be part owner of a restaurant," he said Monday.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.