UC Berkeley alumnus Assaf Pashut officially opened the doors to The Flying Falafel in Downtown Berkeley on Saturday.
The falafel shop, located at 2114 Shattuck Ave., is the second location for The Flying Falafel chain, owned by Pashut. Pashut opened the first location about three years ago in San Francisco.
Pashut’s first exposure to the falafel-making business occurred when he was a student at UC Berkeley, where he would set up “Falafel Friday” booths on Sproul Plaza for club fundraisers.
As his falafel began to gain popularity among fellow students and the community, Pashut decided he would try to expand his business to the local farmers market. This is where he began to attract loyal customers for the past eight years.
“I was always afraid to start a restaurant — you hear all these horror stories about losing your life savings,” Pashut said.
Pashut clearly remembers the moment three years ago that changed his mind about entering the restaurant business.
“I lived in San Francisco and got falafel from a nearby place one day. I asked the guy working there for extra cucumbers. He said he’d have to ask his manager, then came back and told me it’d cost an extra dollar,” Pashut said. “I’m thinking, ‘Man, really? They’re so generous in Israel with food, and here you have to pay extra for cucumbers?’ I vowed that I was going to open a restaurant after that.”
Pashut said he was traveling abroad when a real estate agent called, asking if he was interested in property that had become available in Berkeley. Pashut said yes, and within about three weeks the restaurant was open.
“I want to make sure I meet every single customer here in Berkeley and ensure that everyone feels like a king and queen,” Pashut said.
Customers at The Flying Falafel can order their falafel in either a whole wheat pita bread pocket or plate. The falafel is available in two flavors, organic sesame and spicy, which cannot be found anywhere else, according to Pashut. A variety of vegetables and sauces are also offered as toppings.
“They’re offering something a little different than other Mediterranean restaurants in their genre,” said Matthew Jervis, vitality director of the Downtown Berkeley Association. “So I think they fit in really nicely.”
Other surrounding restaurant owners seem unaffected by the opening of The Flying Falafel. Many are eager to see the diversity in Berkeley’s food scene. Mohamed Aboghanem, a chef at Saha Mediterranean restaurant, said The Flying Falafel offers good falafel quickly.
“It’s all coming full circle for me. One decade later, I’m coming back to Berkeley,” Pashut said.
Staff writer Jessíca Jiménez contributed to this report.