Courtesy of Falafel Inc

A modest fast-casual restaurant in the nation's capital has big philanthropic goals.

David Landsel
January 26, 2018

Let's face facts—you'd probably be a fan of Falafel, Inc., no matter what. Once you weave your way through the line at this diminutive sandwich shop, hiding in plain sight, just off gridlocked M Street in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood, you can get a pita piled high with crisp, very tasty falafel, an array of toppings, and a ridiculous number of very good sauces to choose from, all for just $3. This is good food, it's very cheap food, and when everyone else in the neighborhood hasn't decided to show up, which can happen, it's fast. What's not to like?

Falafel, Inc., however, isn't just another fast-casual, Chipotle-but-for-Middle-Eastern joint, dreaming of locations in every suburb in America. Backed by entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar, Falafel, Inc. is a concept with a mission. For every $10 in sales, the restaurant donates the cost of feeding a refugee for a day, about fifty cents, to the World Food Program, the food assistance arm of the United Nations.

This is not the first time Ashkar has gotten involved in philanthropy, that's kind of his thing—the thirty-something Kansas City native is also the CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation, which calls itself the world's largest student competition for social good. The Falafel, Inc. project, however, is intensely personal—the recipes come from his family, he says; also, he just really likes to eat. (Ashkar, who has also invested in other restaurants, has been known to refer to himself as "a fat boy at heart.")

Concerned over the refugee crisis, Ashkar began thinking of ways to both help out, and raise awareness. Last summer, Falafel, Inc. came into being, and Washington was immediately in love—with the idea, with the food, with the whole thing, really. Quite quickly, plans for expansion have been drawn up—a new location is expected to debut soon at The Wharf, D.C.'s newest neighborhood, down on the Southwest Waterfront; there are reports of Falafel, Inc. locations coming soon to, well, everywhere—NoVa, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, even the Middle East.

Each new location will be franchised; one of Ashkar's most impressive goals for the concept is to create a refugee-to-franchisee program, feeding talent directly into the pool that will be much-needed, if he's going to get all of these stores opened—Ashkar is aiming for at least one hundred of them. For starters, anyway.