Inside, Mohammed Ajlouni, known by his friends as Ibrahim, prepares this Turkish version of a gyro within sight of his guests. The roasted meat (chicken, lamb or beef) is sliced from a rotating spit and served wrapped in pita bread.
Speaking with a heavy Syrian accent, Ajlouni — with the help of his longtime friend, translator and restaurant supervisor, Mouaz Chater — expresses how typical it is to see the food he prepares overseas.
“We have a lot of customers from Europe and they know exactly what [döner] means,” says Ajlouni, who previously worked at the Mediterranean Market on Meadow Street. He recalls having a bus full of about 30 to 40 Europeans arrive, waiting to try a familiar meal. Similarly, one customer who has family in Richmond learned about Döner Kebab and decided to take a trip from Maryland to find this specific cuisine.
The restaurant at 3459 W. Cary St. is small. A seating area facing the street is located next to the doorway, while several stools in the main room line the walls, creating bar-style dining. Outdoor seating is also provided with a large, wooden horseshoe bench — a place where Ajlouni says many people enjoy eating on a nice day. The words “hope, aspire, wish, believe, create, visualize, invent and imagine” have been placed on the walls, which are not adorned with much else. But people don’t come for the décor; they’re curious about the food.
Another, Gabe Smith, stops by the restaurant with his wife for his usual: either lamb or beef döner with a bit of hot sauce for an extra kick.
“I lived in London for awhile and I always went to kebab places there,” Smith says. “So I was able to find one here and now my wife loves it too.”
Chater explains his friend’s passion for cooking and his connection to people saying, “He worked with shawarma when he was 15. When he cooked something, he could share it with some of his buddies. Cooking is one of the ways he could express himself and show himself what he was capable of doing.”
Ajlouni prides himself in making sure his customers are satisfied. Translating for him, Chater says, “He’s happy when he sees someone come in saying to friends, ‘You have to try this place.’ Some customers come in and they don’t have cash, but they can come in the next day to pay us. It doesn’t come to the point that if you don’t have money, you don’t have food. You can’t weigh it [happiness] with money, gold or silver; it’s something that’s priceless.”