Affordable, high-quality food and top-notch customer service are the recipe for success, according to Jamal Amr, owner of Buffalo Grove’s new Firewood Kabob Mediterranean Grill.
The restaurant, which serves wood-fire grilled meats in Mediterranean dishes, opened Sept. 24.
Amr said he uses only fresh meat, which is cooked on the restaurant’s wood-fire grill. Most Mediterranean restaurants charbroil their meat, he said. Using a wood-fire grill eliminates “the nasty fumes from the gas,” he said.
The wood gives Firewood Kabob’s meat “a natural seasoning,” said Amr, who pointed out that most firewood restaurants are considerably more expensive. But the flavor doesn’t stop with the wood. Chicken, for instance, is marinated in a blend of extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar and herbs before it hits the grill.
“Everything here is homemade. Even the sauce is homemade,” said Amr, referring to the restaurant’s hot sauce, sesame sauce and baba ghanoush. “I brew my own iced tea,” he said.
Many ingredients are imported from other countries. Amr refuses to skimp on quality, he said, pointing out the foreign markings on the restaurant’s extra virgin olive oil and chickpeas, among other items.
“I put love in the food,” explained Amr, who ensures all of his dishes are fresh, “from the warm pita bread to the sizzling meat.”
“The customer didn’t come here just to get something warm. He chose this restaurant out of everywhere else. I don’t want to disappoint my customers,” Amr said.
Food is ordered at the counter, and can either be consumed in the restaurant or ordered to go. In addition to meat-based dishes, the menu includes vegetarian options, such as a falafel sandwich and a wood-fire grilled vegetable kabob.
“I hate to call it fast food, because it’s not,” Amr said. “I call it ‘express.’ This is for ordinary people to eat something (cooked) over wood, but at express prices.”
Amr, who previously worked as a car dealer, also has restaurant experience, but this is his first time as a restaurant owner.
He said he applies to Firewood Kabob the advice he received from his former boss at Skokie’s Pita Inn. “If you don’t like the food, don’t serve it to the customer,” he said.
Amr, who was born in Iraq and later lived in Jordan, said his restaurant combines traditional Mediterranean cuisine with his love for a U.S. staple.
“I’m a big fan of American barbecue. I mixed what I learned at Pita Inn with American barbecue,” he said.
“I call it ‘the dream.’”
Seven weeks after opening, Amr said he’s off to a good start. Word of the restaurant is spreading, and “I see customers repeating already,” he said.
Amr said he considered at least 30 locations, and considered opening his restaurant in Miami, before settling on the southeast corner of Buffalo Grove and Aptakisic roads. “This place has everything,” he said, as he looked around the space that was previously home of the Asian Dragonfire restaurant.
While Amr has a staff, he remains hands-on with all aspects of his business. When a Patch reporter arrived to meet him after the lunch hour, he was wiping down tables. He also works in the kitchen, monitors food quality and interacts with customers to make sure they are enjoying their meals.
All are welcome
His welcoming personality is reflected on a sign behind the counter, which declares “Welcome” in English and a number of foreign languages “to tell everybody they are welcome,” said Amr, who speaks half a dozen languages, including his native Arabic.
“As humans, we share a lot of things. One of the things we share is the love of food. I want to tell everybody, ‘We have one thing that we love.’ It’s a very humanitarian message,” he said.
Amr said he’s giving the restaurant everything’s he’s got. When he grows weary from his continuous cycle of 14-hour workdays, he said simply looks at a photo of his smiling 1-year-old son, Adam.
“I’m doing everything for him, working open to close to make this successful for his future,” he said. “One day I’m hoping to bring him here and tell him, 'Be proud this place is here.’ I established this for him,” Amr said.
He hopes to eventually open a second location, he said.
Firewood Kabob is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Prices range from $3.50 for a falafel sandwich to $9.95 for the Firewood Platter, which includes wood-fire grilled chicken, kefta and shish kabobs served with falafel, rice, salad and pitas. The restaurant also offers a $5.95 lunch special from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.
Have you been to Firewood Kabob? Click here to leave a review on Patch.