Before Joe Mattar opened his new restaurant, Joe's Falafel, in the Cahuenga Pass, he realized that he should probably go visit his parents in Tel Aviv.
“I was about to open this restaurant, and I knew I would be busy all the time once I did, so at the last minute I bought a ticket and flew to Israel,” Mattar said. “I'm glad I did that.”
Three weeks after he returned, his parents were killed in a car accident.
“I had a good visit with them, and they gave me their blessing for the restaurant, but I had no idea it would be the last time I would see them,” he said.
Mattar, 55, is a single father of three, his oldest son Eli, 26, helps out at the restaurant. He also has a 22-year-old daughter, Veronica, who is a hairdresser and an 11-year-old son, Bishara, who goes to Valley View Elementary School just down the block.
He created a successful business, Pita Pocket, near Cal State Northridge, but sold it and moved to Arizona. After a few business investments went sour there, he returned and moved to Studio City and found the perfect location for a new restaurant across the street from the Nissan dealership which is located at 3535 Cahuenga Blvd. West.
“I like this location, the people are very nice here,” Mattar said. “It is close to where we live, the school is right down the block, there is plenty of parking, with an underground lot, too, and I like the other businesses here.”
In the 2012 Best of L.A. issue, L.A. Weekly named him with the Best Falafel in the whole city. It’s a secret family recipe, moist and airy inside, crunchy on the outside. He’s also is known for the laffa bread, fattoush salad and the fresh hummus which he makes every day. (See the video in the gallery above.)
“I make this every day from scratch,” Mattar said. He’s in at 5 a.m., boiling the garbanzo beans for four or five hours, and mixing the ingredients for about 25 pounds of hummus that he goes through a day. “People like the hummus,” he laughed.
He buys the fresh ingredients every day and he prepares the Israeli flat bread from whole wheat each morning. Then, he brings his little one to school and returns to open by 11 a.m. He is at the restaurant until the 10 p.m. closing time, and often an hour later for clean-up.
“I moved to America for better life,” he said. “I know that you have work hard for it, and that is what we are doing.”
Now that Joe’s Falafel is nearly a year old, he will change the menu a bit. He will make it healthier, more vegetarian, no oil. There’s a new Greek salad, a chicken salad, lentil soup, minestrone and more coming up. He is responding to the health-conscious customers of Studio City.
“I don’t believe in making things for a month and keeping it frozen, it has to be made every day,” Mattar said. It seems like the customers appreciate that.
He is involved in his son’s elementary school, and if guests come in on Thursday evenings from 3 to 10 p.m., they can mention Valley View Elementary School and the receipts will go into a jar and 20 percent will go to the school.
“I’m happy with the way things are going so far, we have good word of mouth, we are taking things slowly,” Mattar said.
And his parents, Faiz and Mary, are in a picture hanging above the doorway to the kitchen.
“I think they would be happy to see this,” Mattar said.