It wasn’t long ago that shawarma barely existed in the public consciousness — it was a rarity, divergent from the fast-food culinary staples of Subway and McDonalds. In the 2012 film The Avengers, a protagonist humorously admitted he had no idea what shawarma was — a then fairly common conception that set up for an amusing final scene of superheroes silently snacking on pitas.
Including local favourite Mozy’s, Lazeez and Shawerma Plus, the community around Wilfrid Laurier University is now stocked with more shawarma options than Starbucks or Tim Hortons.
But that hardly seemed a deterrent to restaurateur Mohammed Roumia, who recently opened the latest local hotspot for the classic Middle-Eastern dish. His endeavour, Shawarma Royale, is located in the plaza at 258 King St N.
“I was doing some volunteering work for the new [Syrian] refugees at the Howard Johnson [Hotel],” said Roumia. “And I met a couple chefs there. They were ambitious people — they didn’t want to sit and collect money from the government.”
Roumia explained that these chefs needed the financial assistance to start up the restaurant and he was eager to partner with them.
“And I [filled that role] and it worked. And these guys are really, really good. They make amazing food.”
While an ethical basis for opening a restaurant is an excellent thing, social endeavours rarely constitute a viable business model. Luckily, Roumia felt totally confident in the recipe his chefs have brought to the business.
“[This recipe] is the original way — it’s the way we prepared it back home,” he said.
He espoused absolute confidence in the new, small space that added quality to the authenticity.
“Our chicken is grade A. The preparation is different,” he said.
“The taste is different.”
Despite practical concerns, Roumia appears to be totally sure of the restaurant. The menu boasts royale chicken, falafel and lamb on Fridays and Sundays.
They also offer pieces of broasted chicken, a pressure cooked style of fried chicken, served with fries or salad.
With a uniquely Syrian take on the dish, directly transposed from Damascus origins, Royale’s wraps are served on pita or marouk bread with traditional toppings like tahini and pickles.
Roumia believes that the authenticity of the restaurant, coupled with the high quality of the food, is more than enough to set his restaurant apart.
He believes that Shawarma Royale truly performs a necessary role as the only authentic shawarma in the area — and that that should be enough to lure in the student crowd looking for something a bit different.
“The shawarma places around me are not really shawarma places,” he said. “They’re like, quote “shawarma wannabes.””
“We keep it real, we keep it original … I truly have no competition in the area.”