Falafelshop's garnishing station lets diners customize their order.
Scott and Arianne Bennett, the founders of the budding chain Amsterdam Falafelshop, are neither Dutch nor Middle Eastern. But they have created a concept that merges the feel of Amsterdam with the flavor of falafel, a traditional Middle Eastern dish, and they’ve won over a customer base that includes the Dutch, Middle Easterners and primarily Americans.
The couple fell in love with the falafel shops they experienced while traveling in Amsterdam, but when they returned home, they couldn’t find anything similar.
“There was nothing like that here,” says Arianne, the company’s president and c.e.o. “In life, everybody is always running around and they don’t have time to sit down and enjoy that lovely [fine-dining] experience. And they’re tired of the flavorless dumbed down Mexican or whatever kind of fast food that’s not spicy or delicious.”
So the Bennetts decided to create their own fast-casual falafel shop, named and designed to match what they experienced in Amsterdam. When they opened the first in a Washington, DC, neighborhood in 2004, they thought it could become a popular nightspot and a good business for them. They were right, but within six months, they were already thinking about franchising, too.
“People said the food was striking and the experience was striking and that this should be a franchise,” says Arianne. “We thought that would be cool.”
The concept offers just falafel—deep fried balls made of chickpeas and fava beans—served in pitas as a sandwich or in a bowl as a salad. Customers can top their falafel with up to 22 toppings and add a side order of Dutch fries. Virgin brownies are the only other item on the menu, and named that to make it clear to customers hoping for a bonus ingredient you might find more commonly in Amsterdam.
A large pita sandwich costs $6.55, and Bennett says customers typically spend about $11 for a sandwich, fries and soda. Profits are strong, she says, because the main ingredient in falafel—chickpeas—isn’t pricy and doesn’t fluctuate in cost like beef or milk.
There are now two franchised locations open—one outside Boston and another in Annapolis, MD—and plenty more coming. Another will open in DC in February and the Bennetts have sold franchises in Texas, Utah and four more in Boston. All have come from people who fell in love with the concept as customers of the first location.