DeKALB – Owners of a local Middle Eastern restaurant said they saw the good things happening in downtown DeKalb and wanted to be part of it.
The owners of Jamrah Middle Eastern Cuisine, which has had a location at 2672 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore for a few years, now plan to open a second location at 209 E. Lincoln Highway, adjacent to the new mixed-use Plaza DeKalb project.
Local developer John Pappas will lease the space to Ammar Mahmood, 49, and his wife, Jennifer, 44, Jamrah’s co-owners and founders.
Pappas also leases the Sycamore space to the duo, which opened in October 2015.
“[Pappas] is a great business guy, he’s got big vision and big ideas,” Mahmood said. He said expanding Jamrah into DeKalb was “an opportunity we really couldn’t resist.”
The Mahmoods live in DeKalb with their four children, Amber, 27, Sammy, 25, Rami, 19, and Adam, 14, who is a freshman at DeKalb High School. Mahmood said overwhelming community support for the family business is what drives their success.
“I want to emphasize all the good that is happening in downtown DeKalb. Without the support of our customers, this second location would not be a reality,” Mahmood said.
“[Customers] have really stuck with us, and are coming into the restaurant saying how excited they are about the new store.”
Menu offerings at the new 2,000-square-foot location will be much the same as what is served in Sycamore, with an intentional emphasis on quality over quantity, Mahmood said.
“We do really well with the size of our menu,” Mahmood said, explaining that all the recipes are homemade and the ingredients are fresh, and don’t have any preservatives or artificial ingredients.
Popular dishes at Jamrah include the chicken shawarma and a variety of kebabs, as well as falafel for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Jamrah also offers special items which are not featured on the regular menu but highlight seasonal foods. Services also include catering and delivery.
At Jamrah, Mahmood said the atmosphere focuses on community. He employs four people at the Sycamore location, and will look to hire an additional six to eight staff members for the DeKalb location. Much of the day-to-day operations are handled by Ammar and Jennifer themselves.
Mahmood said he tries to give back to the community through Jamrah, and participates often in local fundraisers and school events. In 2016, the restaurant was open on Christmas to provide free meals to those in need.
“We try to be a very positive contributor to the community that we work and operate in,” Mahmood said.
As for being part of the ongoing revitalization efforts downtown with the Plaza DeKalb and Cornerstone Apartment complex projects, Mahmood said he and his family "couldn't be happier" and hope to have a hand in attracting new business and people to downtown DeKalb.
There is even discussion about possible collaboration with the Mediterranean grocery store planned for the first floor of Plaza DeKalb, although Mahmood said that conversation is ongoing and “no details have been finalized.”
Jamrah is eyeing a late winter or early spring opening for the DeKalb location, and construction has already begun.