Cauliflower pita / Photo © Fafa's

Fast food with a fresh twist

TEXT: NDÉLA FAYE | PHOTOS © FAFA’S

When Doron Karavani opened the first Fafa’s in 2011, he had no idea that his concept of a fast food place that sells freshly made falafels and pita breads would one day grow into a large franchise. Yet, having started on the streets of Helsinki, the concept is now spreading to the rest of Europe.

The first Fafa’s, located on the trendy Iso Roobertinkatu in the centre of Helsinki, is still as busy as when it first opened its doors. Although there are several places selling international food in the city, Karavani felt that something was missing. Having dabbled in various professions, he came upon the idea of opening a fast food restaurant. “When we first started, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. But the business idea grew along with the business itself,” Karavani admits. “At the end of our first week of trading, we would often sell out of ingredients before closing time, and there would be people queuing all the way up the street. So I knew I was onto something special, and we quickly opened new outlets.” Fafa’s currently has 24 restaurants throughout Finland and overseas — with that number set to be close to 40 before the end of the year.

A fusion of flavours

Fast food is often associated with greasy spoons and microwaved pre-packaged foods, but Fafa’s does things differently — it is all about a unique atmosphere, good food from fresh ingredients, and great people. Besides its trademark falafels and pita breads with various accompaniments, Fafa’s also serves other quality fast food, such as kebabs and salads. “I want to combine different ingredients and flavours,” Karavani explains. “I noticed that Finns like creamy textures and flavours, so I started mixing pesto and goats cheese, and Kalamata paste with feta. All the flavours complement each other — and it clearly works, because people keep coming back for more.”

Part of Fafa’s uniqueness is that, despite having evolved into a chain franchise, each restaurant has its own vibe. “The employees are a big factor in creating the atmosphere, and I’m very proud of the people who make Fafa’s what it is — a place where diners want to come to enjoy good food. Fafa’s has been chosen as the best street food restaurant in Helsinki several times and we have a large and loyal client base. We were also mentioned in the 2015 Joe Warwick book Where Chefs Eat: A Guide to Chefs’ Favorite Restaurants,” Karavani says. Not wanting to put a particular label on what his restaurant is, Karavani describes Fafa’s as casual street food, serving up a fusion of flavours.

Originally from Israel, Karavani has brought flavours from his childhood into Fafa’s menu. Throughout the Middle East, falafel is a common street food and, in recent years, has become very popular amongst vegetarians and vegans throughout Europe. “It was a case of being in the right place at the right time,” Karavani says. “Part of our success is due to our simplicity and authenticity.”
All of Fafa’s dishes are made from scratch — including soaking the chickpeas from which the falafel and hummus is made. The food is cooked to order, and Karavani likes the fact that the food is prepared in front of the customer, from fresh ingredients. “We use our own recipes for our hummus, chilli sauce and falafels, for example. Everything is cooked by hand and we don’t serve mass-produced foods made by machines,” he says.

The falafel takeover

With new restaurants opening this year in Finland, Fafa’s is also extending its reach into the rest of Europe. A new restaurant recently opened in Tallin, Estonia, with London, Stockholm and Holland set to follow suit in the near future. “The biggest man was once a baby,” Karavani laughs. He started his company from nothing and could never have dreamed that his idea would one day flourish into such a big business. “Fafa’s is a brand that was not meant to be a brand. But I had — and still have — a good team behind me, helping me along this journey. There is no other pita and falafel chain on a global scale, and we are clearly filling a void,” he says.

He adds: “Ultimately, Fafa’s is about good, simple, authentic food. We value our fresh ingredients, and serving exceptionally good falafels and other Middle Eastern-inspired dishes. Our restaurants are welcoming and the atmosphere makes our customers feel like they can enjoy themselves. It’s easy to be proud of this company — which I am, infinitely — and I want our originality to spread elsewhere for people to enjoy.”

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