As we wrote our list of 99 Essential Restaurants™ in Lower Manhattan, we spoke to many of the chefs, owners, and general managers who run the restaurants. We asked them to tell us about the history of their neighborhoods and eateries, recount good memories, and talk to us about what’s hardest about running a restaurant in New York.
Some of these interviews were too good not to share, like the one that follows with Mamoun‘s Galal Chater.
What year did you open?
1971. My father was an immigrant and had nothing, and [my parents] worked until they had an opportunity to open their own restaurant.
What was your original vision for this restaurant, and how has that evolved?
His original vision was just to make a living. He didn’t have any aspirations other than to support his wife and kids and family. Over the years, he was surprised by how well it took. He’s really stuck to his roots. I don’t think he ever thought it would blow up the way it did. I think he saw there was a niche for it in NYC. He definitely didn’t forsee us taking over the business and expanding it the way we have.
What are your favorite memories of the restaurant?
My brothers and I started working when we were really young. I had just turned 11, and we were in the kitchen helping my dad out. My favorite memories are how the Village used to be with the artists and the diversity and experiencing the melting pot of New York City. Especially coming from an Arab family, we have been exposed to a lot of cultures at a young age. It was such a normal thing for me. I attribute a lot of that to growing up in the restaurant and dealing with multiple ethnic groups on a daily basis. I felt like I could relate to my Arab roots in the restaurant.
How do you fit in the neighborhood?
I feel like the neighborhood has changed. There are a lot more college bars, and NYU keeps expanding. There is a line of tradition that exists in the Village because Mamoun’s is there. It’s important that it stay that way. One of the things that I’m proud of is that we are keeping the tradition alive. We are keeping a direct line to the past and bringing up the present.
What’s best about being part of the NYC restaurant industry?
It’s kind of a cliché, but there really is no place like New York. You’re part of such an eclectic group, and the standards are high. There is a lot of competition. We have a small shop, but we are highly regarded by our neighbors like Mario Batali and Keith McNally. I think that’s great because it makes me feel like I’m something bigger than a 250 square foot restaurant on MacDougal Street.
What’s the hardest part about having a restaurant in NYC?
How demanding it is. Because my father’s name is on the door, we have extremely high standards for our staff and product. You can’t delegate the stuff. This is a problem because as we look to expand further out, we don’t want to lose our quality and tradition and history. You never rest. I could be called into the restaurant at 2 a.m. or spend three days in a row at the shop if an employee doesn’t show up or if I feel like someone is slacking. You never stop worrying. It’s like having a child.