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The start of a trend? New concept bets on French fries in wraps

The Kebab Shop shows off European flair in San Diego

Ever thought of putting French fries in a wrap before? If so, you’re in luck: A San Diego kebab concept just introduced the dish as its latest menu item after noticing customers were making it on their own as a secret menu item for years.

“Being in San Diego, putting French fries inside your wrap was commonplace at like taco shops and stuff,” said Wally Sadat, chief marketing officer of The Kebab Shop.

Customers were asking for French fries and feta cheese on their wraps so much that The Kebab Shop finally decided it was time to make it accessible online and in person.

“We said, why don't we just kind of make this a one-click item where they can just click one menu item and already have it pre-customized with the feta cheese and the French fries?” said Sadat.

That’s how the chain’s latest menu item came to be.

The European-style kebab shop was started by Sadat and his brothers-in-law, and, for the new menu item, they took cues from Europe, where French fries are often found not just on the side but in menu items.

“A big thing with us is trying to get everyone to enjoy a kebab even if you don't even know or have had a kebab before,” he said, adding that the familiarity of French fries is a good way to do that.

Partially inspired by Sadat’s brothers-in-law — one is from Holland and the other is from Germany — the European influences on the shop are strong. When traveling with his sisters and their husbands, Sadat would always eat at late-night doner kebab spots throughout Europe.

“It's like this fun hang out and it was cool seeing all different walks of life eating these kebabs,” he said.

When his brothers-in-law AJ Akbar and Tony Farmand took over a previous kebab shop in 2007, the business was born.

The Kebab Shop began as a small store in San Diego and has now grown to 31 locations across California and Austin, Texas, along with several future openings, including its first in Florida.

“I think San Diego has such a big place in our hearts because they really saw that we were just trying our best,” Sadat said. “They would give us a lot of feedback and we would make a lot of tweaks to the menu.”

The menu is derived from Mediterranean flavors, with European-style kebabs available in a wrap, in a bowl with greens, on a plate with rice, or plain. The slogan is “Mediterranean for all,” inspired by the clientele of the restaurant.

“We all noticed early on that there were so many different types of people eating our food,” he said. “So, you would look at the line and we would have a line out the door, and it was really cool to see. But what was really special was you saw so many different backgrounds.”

That line inspired Sadat and his brothers-in-law to build a business based around the kebab, something most Americans aren’t very familiar with.

“If you said ‘kebab’ to somebody, they were most likely going to refer to maybe like a small hole in the wall or like a small mom-and-pop kind of concept,” he said. “But they would never say, ‘Hey, this could be something big or this could be a big part of the American Rolodex of food options.’ And that was something that we always believed in.”

Sadat feels the concept is not only scalable but is also something most Americans and other cultures can get behind.

“It's just slow-roasted meats, salads, and some sauces and bread, and almost every culture has that,” he said.

So what’s next for The Kebab Shop? Testing out steak in about 10-15 stores.

“We're going to do a limited release [of steak],” he said. “We do a lot of R&D all the time. And I think one thing that fuels us is that we're always kind of paranoid.”

Paranoid that the food isn’t just right. Paranoid about the seasoning. Paranoid about all the right things for a restaurant that’s serving up food with flavor.

“I'm just never happy with anything,” Sadat said. “I just feel like we're always just so careful about every detail.”

The brand is planning on opening about six restaurants in the next six months because of construction delays that led to openings being pushed back. That’s after one just opened in January in Los Angeles.

“Some customers are like, ‘Wow, you guys are really opening restaurants every month,’ and we're like, ‘Well, we didn't want to do that. It's just that's how it works sometimes,’” he said.

The Kebab Shop’s growth plan is to flood markets. There are 10 in San Diego, what Sadat said is the ideal number. There are already five locations in Austin, and Sadat said they are hoping for at least another five in the area before they move on. The new location in Florida is just the first there and they expect to open more in the coming years.

“We've noticed that once we have about seven to 10 locations in a cluster, it really helps with familiarity from the customers,” he said.

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