What started as a rundown shack in the suburbs of Chicago is expanding outside the state of Illinois for the first time in company history. Often referred as “the Chipotle of Middle Eastern food,” Naf Naf Grill will bring one of Chicago’s hottest concepts to Minneapolis when it opens its doors on July 31 in the sky level of U.S. Bank Plaza at 200 South 6th Street.
The 3,100-square-foot facility, operated by two general managers from Chicagoland Naf Naf locations, holds 65–68 people and create approximately 20 new jobs. The restaurant will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Founded in 2009, Naf Naf Grill is a prime destination for fresh, authentic Middle Eastern food that serves up award-winning falafel and shawarma, accompanied by oven-baked pitas made daily, fresh, hand-cut salads and freshly prepared sauces and potato fries. A second Naf Naf Grill is under construction in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and a third will open in Maple Grove, Minnesota, in the fall.
“We took a tour of Minneapolis and fell in love with it,” says co-CEO David Sloan, regarding how the company chose the first location outside the greater Chicago area. “We got a great vibe from the people and the atmosphere and it just felt right. Our goal is to help people explore different food and define Middle Eastern cuisine for the great residents of the Twin Cities.”
Cofounders Sahar Sander and Elan Burger established the first Naf Naf Grill in Naperville, Illinois, seven years ago in a 1,200-square-foot building with no air conditioning. Built around high-quality food and the passion for serving great cuisine, 12 additional locations opened in the Chicago market when Sander and Burger partnered with David Sloan and Justin Halpenny. Led by co-CEOs Sander and Sloan, the four together are taking the passion, or in their words, “The Naf Love,” beyond the Chicagoland area for the first time with the Minneapolis restaurant.
“Options for Middle Eastern cuisine are limited in Minneapolis, so we’re giving them a taste of the best there is,” Sander says. “Our concept started with great food and we built a business around that from the very beginning. Our fresh pitas are [baked] daily and the falafel and salads are ground and cut fresh every day. People can customize their own individual pita or bowl however they like.”
The ability to customize each pita or bowl right in front of the customer recently earned Naf Naf Grill the nickname, “The Chipotle of Middle Eastern food.” The steps are simple: Start with a pita or bowl of basmati rice, romaine lettuce, or hummus and then add in chicken shawarma, steak shawarma, or falafel. The customer then gets the option of adding in chopped or purple cabbage salad, sumac onions, and pickles before finishing off the dish with garlic sauce, tahini sauce, or s’khug, a Middle Eastern hot sauce. The shopper can finish up by tacking on Naf fries, lentil soup, or basmati rice for a side dish.
“With our new location at U.S. Bank Plaza, we expect a heavy volume of business from people looking for a delicious lunch or early dinner during the work day,” Sloan says.
Naf Naf Grill recently received a growth-equity investment from an affiliate of Roark Capital Group, an Atlanta-based private equity firm, in early June. Roark Capital’s Ezra Field says the PE firm was attracted to Naf Naf’s emerging, on-trend, fast casual concept that serves authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. “We love its fresh, authentic food and the team’s passion for their brand, culture, and customers,” Field says.