Mohammed Mahrousa is living proof that success comes when you “do what you know.” Mahrousa is the owner of Jasmine Grill, a hopping Mediterranean/Middle Eastern restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina. With a vision and a plan, he managed to transform a former Colombian restaurant with a sprawling 45 options-long menu into a thriving Charlotte catering business that keeps a tight focus on just 15 dishes. He puts a premium on quality and diversity, serving halal meats, several vegetarian and vegan options and traditional desserts. We talked to him about his menu, style of cuisine and secrets to his success.
I’ve been in the business for 25 years. I started in a bakery at age 15 making filo dough from scratch and pastry. To this day, at Jasmine Grill, we make everything fresh and from scratch including all the desserts and pastries.
We describe it as Middle Eastern, but also Mediterranean. If we use the word Mediterranean people assume that it’s an Italian restaurant!
Yes- but not only Syrian food, also food from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. We have almost the same food in each country, but some items differ from city to city.
Since focusing on Middle Eastern food we have more customers, people know what we serve and there’s less confusion. The way we serve it is different, but the taste is authentic. Today our most popular dishes are shawarma chicken, beef and lamb and chicken kebab.
We’ve Americanized our food in order to attract a larger audience. Our customers represent many different nationalities. People come from all over the world so we have to please everyone.
In Arabic countries we serve a plate full of rice, but in America we design the plate and garnish it. The amount of the food is less important than how it looks and tastes- you don’t have to cover the whole plate with rice. Also the service is very important.
Every six months we see what’s selling and change some items, or just remove them. Sometimes we do a special of the day.
We have changed the menu many times, maybe 3-4 times in 4 years. We used to have some Mexican items too but we wanted to focus on kebab and shawarma. If things don’t sell well or items take too much time to make we take them off the menu. People don’t want to wait. If we make fewer items we can provide better quality. If you have too many items the quality and speed of service goes down.
Things are getting expensive, it’s hard to find employees and the cost of ingredients are always going up- even the real estate costs have doubled. You can only raise the price so much. It’s not easy to find someone to cook the way you want. We don’t find people to cook the way we want so we train them.
Another big challenge is the taste of the food—I believe you have to serve food that pleases 95% of your customers. If you reach the point that 6-7% don’t like the food, your business will suffer. A lot of people open and close restaurants. The service is also very important.
We used to have lower prices, but when we raised them them to accommodate the higher operating costs our business only grew. That surprised me.
We have good food, good service, good location and good reviews in the Charlotte catering business. Google and Yelp help us a lot. We do a lot of advertising too.
You have to have long-term experience in the industry. Customers come in and sometimes they are hungry and impatient so every detail matters. You have to be patient and detailed oriented and be consistent. The food must look and taste the same every time.
I would like to franchise the business. Also initially I wanted to open a bakery, but I realized that would be harder than a restaurant. But I might think about opening a bakery next.
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