New York will get a new fast-casual lunch spot, Zooba, this week in Nolita. The beloved food chain hailing from Egypt will join the Downtown neighborhood’s plethora of lunch options like Cava, Just Salad and Sweetgreen (Zooba will be located directly next to the Kenmare Street location of the salad chain). This is not only the Middle Eastern food chain’s first location in New York (and the U.S. entirely), but its first-ever expansion outside of Egypt. According to the eatery's Instagram, the grand opening will go down this Friday, September 27th from 11 am ‘til closing at 10pm.
Though their dishes may look like the hummus and falafel you know, what Zooba offers is entirely different. The chain has come to be known for its ta'ameya, swapping out balls of fried chickpeas for fava beans (in addition to the classic version, Zooba also offers versions with spicy pepper, eggplant and pickled lemon). Instead of hummus you'll find a fava bean dip called bessara. Likewise there will be ful, an Egyptian breakfast staple of slow-cooked fava beans and baladi, Egyptian flatbread. You can expect these Egyptian street foods to be offered alongside other sides, dips and pickled veggies, hovering around a $12 price point. The menu is a collaboration between seasoned Executive Chef Moustafa El Refaey and founder Chris Khalifa, who have worked together since Zooba first opened in Cairo in 2012 (it’s since expanded with six locations across the country).
In addition to a mural proudly displayed on the restaurant's exterior, Zooba has playful graphic design by Jessica Walsh, featuring pop art plays on Egyptian Arabic typefaces, hoping to capture the essence of New York and Cairo. The bright colors of the branding are accompanied by interiors designed by award-winning architect Ahmed El Husseiny of AE SuperLab. There will be even neon lights (almost reminiscent of the club-like interiors at the Bushwick Mission Chinese) meant to reference storefronts in nearby Chinatown and on the city's halal carts, with those found in Cairo’s Attaba or El Mosky area. The blue door was sourced directly from Cairo, and is an element that appears in many Zooba outposts. Doors come from "Cairo’s Sabteya district, a labyrinth of beautiful old doors, floor tiles and assorted curios for sale, many of which come from homes originally built over one or two hundred years ago that are routinely torn down these days to make way for new real estate developments," the team writes on Instagram.
Overall, design details like these seem to give the chain an aesthetically unique vibe from its competitors in the fast casual food market. Zooba may not be the first to focus on Egyptian street food in New York, but they have certainly packaged the bites into a full-blown brand, reportedly, raising $4 million dollars for its U.S. expansion. Zooba will join the growing Middle Eastern fast casual options, such as Miznon, Taim and Mamoun's.
Zooba’s first New York location will open at 100 Kenmare St., New York, NY 10012