The Vegan Shawarma Offers a Fresh New Take on a Cultural Food Staple
Have you ever dived into a plate of food and seconds after licking the plate clean, asked yourself “What did I just eat?”
This sensation happened to me, after I tried The Vegan Shawarma. I was drawn to their stand by a delicious smell, the pop of the vibrant colors gleaming from the fresh veggies, and of course the long line of customers was a plus.
So what is shawarma?
A traditional shawarma is a Middle Eastern meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are placed on a skewer, and grilled for as long as a day. Shavings are cut off the block of meat and commonly served as a sandwich or wrap. The shawarma is often garnished with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, pickled vegetables, and tahini sauce.
Chef Asaf Gahali is turning this delectable meat-filled treat, vegan! Chef Gahali a native of Israel, relocated to Harrison, New Jersey 2 years ago. During his time in the U.S. he has since married and founded The Vegan Shawarma.
The Vegan Shawarma is bringing authentic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors to the tri-state area by serving up delicious vegan bowls with shawarma or baked falafel. Also, their products have no preservatives and are 100% plant-based.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Chef Asaf Gahali to discuss his vegan food business, his journey as an entrepreneur, and much more!
What inspired your passion?
My passion evolves around my wife. She’s vegan, however she craved some of her favorite native foods. One of her favorites just happened to be shawarma. So vegan shawarma actually started with me trying to make my wife dishes that she could eat and dishes that reminded her of home. I also see the growth of the market and definitely see my products as part of that growth. I am passionate about making people aware of the benefits of consuming more plants and less meat/poultry… for our health and the environment.
When did you realize your product could become a business?
Around February, I started working on the product that we serve to this day. I would hold small tastings primarily between my friends and family. I would receive feedback and continue perfecting our product. Once the reviews were favorable to my liking, I started bringing our product to small pop-ups and markets. Positive feedback from friends and family is one thing but letting total strangers at markets and pop-ups try your food is nerve-wrecking. However, once I received positive reviews from the vegan community I knew I had something the people wanted.
Describe your day as a business owner.
My days are always spent growing my brand and business. Everyday usually in the early morning I read information about the vegan market. I like to stay current with trends and study successful vegan food businesses. After that, I continue perfecting the product. When I’m not in the kitchen I’m out shopping the product around local restaurants. The rest of the day, I’m working on sharpening my business plan and prepping food for a market or festival.
What challenges have you come across that you didn’t expect?
The biggest challenge I have is finding space to cook and store food. Most commercial kitchen spaces are expensive. I’m currently working on purchasing my own commercial kitchen.
What does your food have in common with Newark?
My food is a representation of my cultures cuisine. My food exemplifies Newark’s food scene. If you want to taste exotic food, Newark has so many different cultural dining experiences. In Newark, the options are limitless. I’m excited the people are willing to accept and try new flavors and cuisine.
What do you think about the Makerhoods mission?
It’s a wonderful idea. Most self-starting entrepreneurs are lacking both business experience and funds. Makerhoods is creating a space where entrepreneurship can thrive and become sustainable for the business owner. I also follow Makerhoods monthly meetups and think that they are unique and priceless for any self-starter looking to make connections.
What are your business goals for 2019?
My business goals for 2019 are to first complete my commercial kitchen, I then want to start selling my product to local restaurants. Lastly, I want to continue growing my business in revenue and brand awareness.
What advice would you tell your younger self?
Never give up! No matter how difficult, you can always find the solution to your problem.
Anthony Smith, Community Outreach Coordinator
After graduating college and returning back to my hometown of Newark, NJ I became a member of the Newark Makerhoods team. This transformative experience put me in touch with many local entrepreneurs who are all in different business stages, ranging from established to upstart. Newark is a thriving city for talented creators. I'm here to share their stories and launch their business to the everyday public’s eye.