Celebrating two years on Capitol Hill, Mamnoon’s Middle Eastern cuisine thrives on a transforming Melrose block

Racha and Wassef (Image: Alex Garland for CHS)

Racha and Wassef (Image: Alex Garland for CHS)

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.

To celebrate its second anniversary, Mamnoon is bringing back classics like Habbar: "marinated & grilled octopus, aleppo chili, chickpeas, cumin, inked hummus, nigella, and parsley" (Image: Mamnoon)

To celebrate its second anniversary, Mamnoon is bringing back classics like Habbar: “marinated & grilled octopus, aleppo chili, chickpeas, cumin, inked hummus, nigella, and parsley” (Image: Mamnoon)

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.

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

10 thoughts on “Celebrating two years on Capitol Hill, Mamnoon’s Middle Eastern cuisine thrives on a transforming Melrose block

  1. That parking entrance for 180 vehicles will spill right onto Melrose. :/ A shame to have such a big car traffic generator onto such a cool street.

    • Better than having the cars park on the street (as in drive around trying to find a parking space). I think there must be requirements about parking spaces with certain new construction. And I’m not exactly pro-car. Nor do i find that block particularly cool. Nor any block really.

    • I agree with Max. And if you lived there and owned a car, you would be glad there is parking available, as otherwise that area is a nightmare. Also, if there will be some spaces available for the general public, that will be good for the local businesses.

      My understanding is that currently there is no parking requirement for new buildings (especially in “urban villages”)….it’s up to the developer. Does anyone have any more information about this issue?

    • The weekend the Melrose Market opened, they had the street closed and used it for a kind of street fair / farmer’s market. It was fantastic. I wish they could do that again, and make it a regular thing.

  2. I’m so glad to have Mamnoon in the neighborhood – amazingly delicious and well-price lunch that I take all my visitors to enjoy.

  3. Pingback: Stateside’s take on French Vietnam by way of Capitol Hill joins the mix in Melrose | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  4. Pingback: Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room opens at the base of Capitol Hill | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  5. Pingback: Capitol Hill food+drink | Euro Pub and bottle shop will bring ‘the best beers of Europe’ to Broadway | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle