Maurice Afraimi, owner of Naan and Kabab, etc, came to Reno to do something he’d done a few times before – open a successful restaurant. This time, however, his cuisine would be something much closer to his heart and heritage: Mediterranean.
Maurice emigrated from Persia as a boy, and he never lost his passion for the healthy, tasty cuisine of his upbringing. Eventually he turned that fire for food into a career and he now has a lifetime of culinary experience. From working his teen-age years as a short order cook at a “greasy spoon truck stop,” to teaching culinary school at Job Corps in San Jose, food has been more than just a way to make a living for Maurice – it’s a microcosm for life.
“Passion is important. I believe that if you love what you’re doing – you’ll never work a day in your life,” said Maurice. “I started this restaurant so that I could share the food that my parents and neighbors used to make when I was a child. I love my job.”
After opening and managing several successful clubs and restaurants in the Bay Area, Maurice decided to move to Reno – a place he loves – and serve the food he’d grown up with. But he’d had heard from many other business owners that Reno was “unpredictable.”
“There are many factors that make it difficult to predict business in Reno,” said Maurice. “From the weather, to tourism, to having a college-town cycle – it’s difficult to know what businesses will work and what won’t. So, my strategy is simple: consistently provide excellent food and service at a reasonable price. The only way to overcome instability is to have a group of loyal customers. And we do: eighty-five percent of our customers are repeat.”
Maurice first came to the Nevada Small Business Development Center (NSBDC) in December of 2008 where he met with Debra Deming, the Marketing Counselor at the Reno NSBDC. He requested assistance to market his restaurant to the Reno populace and ensure a strong opening the upcoming February.
NSBDC interns drafted invite lists for three grand openings, each targeted at a different segment of the professional population and workforce. Naan & Kabab opened Valentine’s Day weekend, 2009 and served over 300 people. Since then, business has grown steadily as Maurice and his staff continue to refine their food, friendly service, warm atmosphere – all at prices that are surprisingly affordable.
“It’s been very exciting and very satisfying how Reno has accepted the Mediterranean food.”
But Naan & Kabab hasn’t grown complacent – they’ve continued to add menu items, events, and services to their repertoire. While they serve delicious Mediterranean standards like falafel, tri-tip gyros, dolma, and baba ganoush (and much more), they’re always looking to create something new and extraordinary. Take their Mediterranean burger for example: a three-quarter pound burger made with their signature koobedeh meat (a spiced blend of lamb and beef) served with tzatziki sauce and falafel. They’re serving Moroccan Steak and Prawns Roberto. And their “Awesome Dude” dessert is heavenly; homemade pistachio ice cream infused with saffron and rosewater and topped with crumbled baklava.
To quench your thirst, Naan & Kabab commissioned local brewery Knee Deep Brewing to create a Mediterranean-style pilsner (which they’ll be unveiling in August). They stay mobile by catering events in town and they’ve even incorporated Middle-eastern belly dancing and music on Friday and Saturday nights.
Over the year and a half that they’ve been open, the Small Business Development center has guided Maurice and his staff to use new digital media as a central aspect to their marketing. “They gave us suggestions on how to refine our website and better use Facebook to reach our fans. We’ve grown from just over a hundred fans in December of 2009 to over 900 fans in July.” Naan & Kabab has fans all over Nevada and California, and they span all ages.
“It surprised me how much the younger people, especially children, love our food. I guess I can attribute that to the flavors that we have in our food – the absence of the strong spices – and that’s been a wonderful surprise to me.”
It’s healthy too.
“Many people tell me, “Your food is missing heavy sauces and spices” and that’s because the flavors come from marination. Then we cook it over open fire and what grease is there drips down while we cook. We don’t sauté anything. “
But staying in business requires a commitment to the organization, and Maurice settles on that aspect as essential to success.
“Most important is bonding our staff and creating a culture that brings out the best in everybody. To put it simply, we work to build a culture where you can feel relaxed and be happy going to work. When people are in a good mood they pass on that aura to the customer. So the culture that’s created here is friendly and relaxed and positive.”
Despite his years, Maurice is energetic and full of optimism for the long-term success of Naan & Kabab.
“Of course restaurants require long hours, but I don’t seem to mind it at all. I’m meeting some very special people, and my thanks go to UNR and the NSBDC for their marketing. And finally, we stay in business because of our loyal customers. We can’t appreciate you enough. And we know that if we don’t consistently do our job, you wouldn’t be as loyal as you are – and so we will continue to do our best and listen to you, our most valuable assets.”
Naan and Kabab is located at 2740 S. Virginia, across from the Peppermill Hotel Casino.
Success story compiled and written by Cecil “Chuck” McCumber – Graduate Assistant – Nevada Small Business Development Center