By Annika McGinnis, The Diamondback (April 2, 2013)
Despite competition from similar restaurants, students couldn’t seem to get enough of Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill during its opening week.
The Chipotle-style Mediterranean restaurant opened Wednesday in Boston Market’s former spot in the College Park Shopping Center, offering made-to-order pita sandwiches, plates and kabobs to students who praised the food’s vegetarian options and fresh quality.
Building inspections and contractor issues delayed the restaurant’s opening two weeks, said Claude Duval, assistant manager at the eatery. And there was concern that Roti Mediterranean Grill, a similar restaurant beneath The Varsity, could draw customers away from the store.
However, business exceeded expectations during Garbanzo’s first week, media spokesperson Beth Hardy wrote in an email. Duval said the restaurant cleared $3,000 in sales both of its first two days and was $15 beyond its projected revenue for opening day. On Monday and Tuesday, the restaurant held “practice parties,” where invited members of the public could come and try the food for free. If they had been actual sales, the restaurant would have sold more than $4,000 both days, Duval said.
“Most restaurants from 2 to 5 are pretty slow, pretty empty, but with the college students having classes, we’ve been steady throughout the whole day,” he said. “Dinner here has been busier than any other [Garbanzo] location.”
Akid Hossain, a 2012 alumnus, ate at Garbanzo on Thursday evening and said the restaurant added diversity to the food options in the shopping center.
“We had Boston Market, which was American, and then we have Jason’s Deli, and then there’s Chipotle, which is kind of Americanized Mexican, so this is a bit more variety than what they have here,” Hossain said.
The Colorado-based chain wants to bring the “fresh, authentic” food that owner Alon Mor ate growing up in Israel to the United States, Duval said. About 90 percent of the food is made from scratch, including all the restaurant’s sauces and meat marinades. Some food is imported from Israel, including the dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and pickles.
“A lot of our recipes are family kind of recipes and developed by people from the Mediterranean,” Duval said. “Our recipes are exclusive to us — like some of the spices we use, we don’t even know the exact amounts of what’s in it because it’s so exclusive.”
The first Garbanzo opened in 2008, and there are 15 in Colorado. The chain plans to have about 30 restaurants around the nation by the end of the year. One opened three weeks ago in Columbia, and locations will open in Annapolis and Crofton in the summer, Duval said.
Duval said this university is a perfect location because it’s a diverse school with a student body that will appreciate ethnic food.
“Students seem to love it,” he said. “College Park is so great because of the international business program. There’s so much diversity on that campus; it really helps opening an ethnic place like Mediterranean food.”
At Garbanzo, customers can choose a kabob or a build-your-own pita, laffa (a wrap) or plate. Protein options range from falafel, chicken shwarma, chicken or steak falarma (a mixture of chicken or steak and falafel) to portobello mushroom or hummus. Then, customers can add their choice of toppings, including rice, vegetables and babaganoush, as well as feta cheese and olives for an extra charge. A variety of sauces are available, including tahini, tzatiki, Mediterranean garlic sauce and red chili sauce.
Duval, a self-described “meat and potatoes” guy, said he loved the kabobs. He said plates have been especially popular with customers so far because the different foods are separated, and “it comes with pretty much everything on the line.”
The stuffed pita and laffa have also been popular, Hardy wrote, because customers can easily eat them on the way to class or work. He added the eatery sold out of chicken in two days.
Other than the chicken, steak and chicken soup, the entire menu is vegetarian, Duval said.
Hossain said because he prefers more variety in meats than in vegetables, he likes Mediterranean eatery Moby Dick in Stamp Student Union more than Garbanzo.
“On my plate, there’s only one meat, and everything else is vegetarian,” Hossain said, adding that Garbanzo is a good choice for vegans and vegetarians. “[Moby Dick] has more variety when it comes to the meats, but when it comes to vegetables and toppings and other stuff, they have more variety here.”
Competitor Roti Mediterranean Grill also serves made-to-order pita sandwiches and plates with many of the same ingredients as Garbanzo. Though Duval said Garbanzo “blows [Roti] out of the water” with more variety and better food, senior physics major Nasif Ahmed said he prefers Roti.
“Maybe it’s the rice,” Ahmed said, adding he hadn’t tried everything at Garbanzo yet.
A Roti manager, who asked to remain anonymous, said Roti hasn’t experienced any slowdown in business since Garbanzo opened. Though the restaurant could “definitely stand to be busier,” she said the two restaurants operate in different areas of College Park, so they aren’t competing for the same customers. Roti would more likely appeal to students living in apartment complexes such as the University View and The Varsity, whereas Garbanzo would draw in more students living on South Campus, Ahmed said.
Still, students eating at the restaurant said part of Garbanzo’s appeal was the “top-notch” customer service.
“They’re so nice,” said Vicki Pung, a senior biology major. “They came up to us and asked ‘Can we get you anything?’ … And they came up and joked with us.”
Employee Erica Harkins said she used to work at KFC and Noodles & Company, but she loves working at Garbanzo because of the “family-oriented” atmosphere, opportunities for promotion and the 65 percent discount workers enjoy. Harkins said she gets an adrenaline rush every day she comes to work.
“Garbanzo was a different type of company,” Harkins said. “Everything is made fresh here, every morning, every day, all day … They have their own menu; they have their own words like falarma and shwarma; it’s so catchy. They’re great. I can’t even imagine if I didn’t work here what I would be doing right now.”
Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Catering is available, and though the eatery doesn’t deliver, it might consider adding delivery in the future. However, customers can order what they want online and pick it up in the store, Duval said.
Duval said he encourages everyone to stop in and give Garbanzo a try.
“We will let you sample anything on the line you want,” he said. “Every day, no matter how many times you’ve been in here, we’re going to offer you a falafel sample, … We get them to try it. I mean, there’s no reason not to try it if someone’s giving it to you for free.”