The restaurant, which closed in 2018 after a dispute over its lease, is set to reopen at the former location of Simply Greek in Uptown. Owner Mae Elassal has signed a lease with Case Western Reserve University and is eyeing a March opening.
“It’s been hard and sad and exciting, all of these things together,” she says.
Originally located at Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road for more than 18 years, Elassal and her husband were forced to shut their doors in November 2018 after their lease with University Circle Inc. was not renewed, Elassal says.
"Their previous space was in a 1920s-era building that is currently undergoing pretty significant updates and renovations, the space is currently unavailable," says University Circle Inc. director of communications David Razum. "That being said we’re really glad Falafel has found a new location in University Circle."The couple planned on immediately reopening nearby, but her husband, Hani, died four months after the closing. If all goes well, Elassal hopes to reopen the Cafe in early March to honor the anniversary of her husband's death.
“When University Circle didn’t renew our lease, he couldn’t take it,” she says. “Before my husband passed away, I promised him I’d keep our business running.”
The smaller spot with about 20 seats won’t have table service like the former location, but Elassal will still be in the kitchen cooking up her falafel, chicken shwarma and shish tawook, famously served over a fatoosh salad. The only difference longtime customers will notice on the menu are vegan options such as fried eggplant and fried cauliflower sandwiches and a vegan dessert.
“I don’t let anybody cook. I marinate the beef, the chicken. Somebody can cook on the grill, it’s OK. But nobody touches the recipe,” Elassal says. “I don’t know if I can be able to train somebody to make my food. I feel like if I didn’t make the food it’s not going to be the same.”
The lease with Case Western Reserve, however, she’s leaving in the hands of a good attorney this time around. She’s signed for three years with options to renew.
“I can’t say anything about University Circle,” she says. “They were so nice until the last few months. It’s their right if they don’t want us there.”
Even more than getting back to work after a 15-month work hiatus, she’s happy to begin serving the area’s students and residents again. They were the reason she couldn’t bring herself to open in another area.
“For exactly 18 years, we were a home for all the students, and it was our home there,” she says. “I raised up my customers one by one. They are my life because I swear to god I love these kids like I loved my own.”