When you search for your favorite thing to eat in Austin and you don’t find what you are looking for. There are only a couple of things you can do about it. For most of us, we go home and try and make it ourselves. Or just give up and go about our day. But for Raya Naser, she did things a little differently. You see Raya tried really hard to find her favorite Mediterranean place in Austin.
But let’s be honest. The scene here really isn’t that good. That was until now. That was until Raya did something about it. Last April Raya’s husband had a heart attack. It was an eye-opener for the family. He asked Raya what she wanted to do in case he wasn’t able to be around anymore. Raya thought about it for a long time. And she decided that a food truck is what she wanted. Her dream was to have a place where people can go and enjoy the great Mediterranean food. She said this with a couple of tears coming down. You could tell that for her this was life. Her husband is her best friend. He wanted to make sure that she had something that was stable in case something happened to him. As a husband and a father, those are things that keep you from sleeping at night.
When we look for new places we try and find places that have love for what they do. For Ainsley and I, it was so evident that Moe and Raya had that love. We had the interview while Raya’s kids sat and played while we spoke. This is something that is special to me. As a father in this industry, I know it is hard to have this life and have a family life. Austin Halal understands what its like to be in this life. It is so hard for owners to have a family and run a business. But for now, Raya has a firm grasp on it.
How did you get started?
Raya was always looking for good falafel and shwarma. She met Mo at the restaurant he was working at. She asked him who makes the falafel and he said he did. He told her he was the chef. Raya invited Moe to her home and he made his falafel and she was sold. “Lets open a food truck” . He also made her his shwarma and explained that with his the ingredients were fresh and it was cooked the way that it should be. Like the way they do back home. Before this Raya thought that she made the best shwarma, but Moe’s brought Raya back to her memories and eating shwarma back home. Jason thinks shwarma here in Austin its treated more like a burrito. Soggy and messy. You just don’t want to eat it. Moe made his crispy. Sliced into pieces so you can see what it inside of it. You can see the fresh ingredients that they use. You can tell it was made the right way. Moe explained to us that it was the skewer that made it so crispy. He wanted to make it easy to eat. By cutting the shwarma into smaller pieces it makes it easier for people to enjoy. The shwarma also came with this garlic sauce. So good. Then Raya brought out their hummus. I am not one for hummus. But this hummus was phenomenal. So creamy and smooth. It was perfectly seasoned. With just a touch of olive oil on top. Moe said he blends it until it is creamy. No lumps and not grainy. It takes them two days to make it.
Do customers have an issue with how long it takes to get the food?
Raya usually tells the customers how long it will be. When you order fresh food it takes awhile. “For some people, it takes them 5 seconds and for us, it takes 5 minutes. And I’m okay with that. We are giving them fresh food”. During the grand opening, they had a wait of 45 minutes. People didn’t mind. They knew they were getting something good. For us, we understand that with openings you are going to have a bunch of bumps to get through. Sometimes those bumps are ticket times. You get through it and move forward.
Why did you pick this location?
Raya and her husband would drive for about 5-6 hours every Sunday and Wednesday looking for a spot. They were rejected over and over again until they found this location. They were told that there was no room. They came back a couple of weeks later and were told that there was a spot. They jumped right on it. Location is such a huge part of opening a food truck. 1606 is a really great location. Once construction is done. The foot traffic is going to be really high.
What has it been like to have your kids be apart of this?
For Raya having her 9-year-old, there has been great. She wants him to know the value of money and the hard work that comes along with it. For us, it was really neat to see him working the window and interacting with the customers. He knew his job and was actually pretty good at it. For her four year old it’s a little different. She wants to go home and play. Or be somewhere else. For Raya it’s hard because she is a mom first so she has to do what’s best for the kids. But right now her focus needs to be on the business. Raya loves the fact that she can have her kids there. It’s a safe place for them to be.
How has the community been towards you?
Everything so far has been so positive so far Raya proudly says. They did have one problem with the food. But that was due to someone taking fries home. Fries usually die after 5 minutes after they have been out. That’s very common. She did have a customer come back for a second time and had to order two of their shwarmas. He just loved them that much.
What gave you the courage to open a food truck?
Raya has broken down so many times before opening. When you are not open you are prepping, washing dishes, shopping or dealing with something that has come up. It’s non stop. I told her she is going to break down. Multiple times. You just have to keep going. It was hard for Raya to go from the travel world to the food truck world. The adjustment has difficult. The support from her community she lives in was very overwhelming for her. They started making request towards her. They encourage her to do more things. For us we tried Umm Ali for the first time. This was one of Moes specialties. He had to have it on the menu. Items like that are things that help them push themselves to do better for their customers. Ainsley and I are so happy they did.
We tried a few of their items. First was the chicken shwarma with garlic sauce. The shwarma was so crispy and full of flavor. I have never had a shwarma like this before in my life. Our Dolma was amazing. Ainsley couldn’t get enough of it. One thing that I would say about the food is this. Save room for dessert. Umm Ali is something special. There are very few things that make me think about what I just put into my mouth. Moe’s Umm Ali did that. Moe’s is something special. If he has five minutes to sit down with you take advantage of it. Not only will you learn a lot about what he does, but you will see the love that he has for what he does. I am a better chef for having the chance to sit down with Moe. That is truly something special.