Mamnoon was in no way destined to succeed. Two years ago, CHS asked tech entrepreneur Wassef Haroun if he was sure about his ambitious plans for his first restaurant — a Middle Eastern venture on Melrose Ave.
Two years later, customers waiting for open tables during a busy Tuesday lunch answered that question (and that was despite a street closure just outside Mamnoon’s door to prepare a gas line for newcomer Stateside).
Even with Mamnoon’s success, Haroun said he and his wife Racha still feel like outsiders among the lifetime restauranteurs that populate the neighborhood. “We’re the black sheep of the restaurant industry,” Haroun said.
In a time when chef-owners seem to be the industry trendsetters, Haroun said his management model allows his kitchen crew to focus on what they do best and gives him time to endlessly tinker with the business. In his past life at Microsoft and other tech ventures, Haroun spent much of his time worrying about who would use a product and how to measure user feedback. At Mamnoon, the feedback is instantaneous. “They’re sitting right in front of you,” he said.
A big part of Mamnoon’s formula is its ability to straddle the varied needs of Capitol Hill diners: to-go sandwiches from its street side window, a casual sit-down lunch, and a dinner service that appeals to both first dates and families.
Lead by executive chef Garrett Melkonian, Mamnoon’s kitchen has accumulated over 100 dishes in its repertoire that encompasses the “modern union of Middle Eastern cuisines.” When Mamnoon first opened, Haroun poetically described his take on Middle Eastern food as “not trying to be wholly authentic — but authentic to the memory and overall experience of what we remember.” In other words, Haroun wanted to elevate the American experience of Middle Eastern food beyond styrofoam plates of watery hummus and french fries.
The Harouns also intended Mamnoon as a social statement and have continued to weave in opportunities to raise awareness — and cash — for causes like UNHCR Syrian Refugee Relief.
As with any new venture, there are always surprises. Haroun said he could not have predicted how much time and effort it would take to successfully manage a employees in a industry, shall we say, so flush with personalities.
While he didn’t rule out a Mamnoon 2.0, Haroun said there were no immediate plans to expand. Development in the area should mean even more foot traffic for Mamnoon in the coming months. Stateside is slated to open any day now and Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room is under construction across the street and slated to open in early December. Haroun said the Starbucks crew are already regulars, even CEO Howard Shultz has popped in.
Meanwhile construction continues at the Melrose and Pine development, an eight-story building that will include 205 units of housing, 16,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space and underground parking for 180 vehicles.
Mamnoon is located at 1508 Melrose Ave. You can learn more at mamnoonrestaurant.com.