LOGAN SQUARE — Seeing the neighborhood’s continued influx of newcomers and pricey food options, longtime Logan Square resident Ghaleb Masoud wanted to offer neighbors a more affordable yet authentic place to grab a bite.
Masoud, who has lived in the area for 30 years and runs the Plaza Food corner store at 3011 W. Armitage Ave., opened his family-run Yaba’s Middle Eastern Grill last week in the back of the grocery store.
Serving up gyros, falafel, shawarma and spinach pie veggie dishes, Yaba’s emphasizes vegetarian friendly, organic and homemade dishes for the community. Masoud hopes to attract new customers and keep his loyal ones coming back as the area continues to change.
“[We lost] some grocery business when the transformation of this neighborhood started,” Masoud said. “Before, we used to have family-type people living here.”
The neighborhood has very few Middle Eastern restaurants, so Masoud said his family started thinking of having an authentic Middle Eastern grill in the back. After a lengthy process acquiring city permits and building the kitchen, Yaba’s is now ready to serve.
“We will start with the kitchen and will expand as needed but we won’t give up the grocery store unless we are sure that the restaurant attracts people,” he said. “The store is our main source of income.”
Masoud said corner store grocery businesses like his are struggling, which led him to look for new avenues to make a profit. Secondly, he hopes the new grill will be a successful business venture for his children and family, some of whom work in the restaurant and all come from cooking backgrounds.
“It’s a pretty good opportunity for me to learn, and it’s pretty exciting because [cooking is] within my skill set,” said son Hamza Masoud, one of two chefs at Yaba’s.
Along with Hamza Masoud, his father hired chef Rami Mansour, a Jordanian family member who recently moved to Elmwood Park from Dubai, where he worked as a chef 10 years.
Ghaleb Masoud, who has eight children, said his wife, daughter and sons help with the cooking and maintaining the restaurant, but Hamza Masoud is the one really taking the kitchen under his wing.
When choosing a name for the grill, Ghaleb Masoud said he picked Yaba because it means father in Arabic and it has become his nickname by his shoppers. Originally from Palestine, he said his children call him Yaba instead of “daddy” and after hearing that in the store, many customers latched on.
“A lot of customers thought that this is my name so they started calling me Yaba,” he said.
In Palestine, he owned a design business that sold t-shirts, mugs, trophies and the like, so he created the menu himself and designed the restaurant’s logo, a little caricature wearing a traditional Mediterranean hat carrying steaming falafels.
Ghaleb Masoud is a family man through and through. He greets every customer with a smile and asks how they are doing. He knows many by name and what they usually buy. Some of his loyal customers have since moved out of the neighborhood but come back to visit and support his business, calling him “Yaba,” “papa” or “pops.”
“When you go in and the owner or the people of a store treat you as a family member, you will feel more comfortable, you will come back,” he said. “That’s why I always tell my customers if you don’t find what you want, just let me know and I’ll get it.”
While Yaba’s grill might be hidden behind isles of food and household items, Ghaleb Masoud plans to install TVs with menus and signs outside and around the neighborhood to advertise the new grill. He said the food is available on Uber Eats, and the family might hire a bike messenger delivery service if the Uber option proves to be sustainable.
Hamza Masoud said the business will take time to build but he sees it as a positive impact to the neighborhood that will offer genuine Middle Eastern cuisine at affordable prices.
“I think the neighborhood will take [the business] pretty well, especially with our locality and since it’s so condensed in this area, we will be able to do deliveries,” he said.
Yaba’s is open from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. but his goal is to be open until 12 or 1 a.m. on weekends as business picks up. But even when that happens, Ghaleb Masoud said he plans to keep the kitchen space small. He said the setup accompanies the intimate, family atmosphere of the shop.
“I don’t want to be famous, I just want to satisfy the needs of my customers around the neighborhood, my neighborhood, so they don’t go anywhere [and] will come over [here],” he said. “I will provide them with the best possible homemade Middle Eastern food.”
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