A new Middle Eastern restaurant is opening on Mission Street in the next nine months, and its owner is a former software developer who is done with the tech world.
“You work behind a screen for 10–15 years, you lose your mind,” said Monti Majthoub, a software engineer turned first-time restaurant owner who plans to open up a Middle Eastern sandwich shop called Tahini. “I don’t even care about software anymore, I just want to work with people.”
Majthoub was written up in the San Francisco Examiner in 2007 for his attempt to create a “Facebook for Burlingame,” but said he tried his hands at various start ups in the years since then. He started the “seventh biggest application you never heard of on Facebook,” he said, but that shuttered when their customer base went from “30 million to zero overnight” thanks to Facebook making a change in policy.
“I’m 40 years old, I used to do software, but now I’m done,” he said. His new interest is Middle Eastern food made with fresh ingredients.
“Every time I have falafel and shawarma when I take friends, I get angry,” he said. The pita bread is stale at most restaurants, and that, he explained, is “the most essential ingredient” for a good sandwich. “I say, ‘If you only have a falafel and shawarma with freshly baked bread, you will understand what I’m trying to tell you.’”
“You put anything in fresh bread and it’s amazing,” he added.
Majthoub filed permits earlier this month to open a restaurant at 2859 Mission St. between 24th and 25th streets, the spot that once held the La Torta Sabrosa restaurant. His shop, which can can seat some 20 people but will also allow for take-out, will serve just four items: shawarma, kebab, kanafeh, and french fries.
All of them will be made in-house, he said.
“We make everything from scratch,” he said. “The bread is going to be baked when you order the sandwich, the falafel is going to be fried when you get there. That’s the whole theme.”
Majthoub grew up in Jordan to a family of restaurateurs, he said. His father owns a shawarma and falafel shop there and was one of many to warn him against going into the food scene.
“I am very hopeful, but at the same time very terrified,” Majthoub said. When he’s visited friends who own restaurants in the Mission, he sees them work and sometimes helps them and “it’s not easy,” he said. When those same friends hear he’s planning to make all his ingredients in-house, they tell him it’s unrealistic.
He said he doesn’t care what others say and that he’s “not doing it to fail,” but he’s not naive about the difficulties. If the fresh ingredients prove impossible, he said he may switch to buying from vendors and freezing his food.
“Maybe I’ll open and five months later you show up and I switched to frozen fries and to hell with baking bread,” he said.
Tahini is named after the sesame seed dip used in much Mediterranean food. Majthoub originally wanted to call the restaurant Bob’s Falafel, after the TV show Bob’s Burgers, but a friend cautioned him against the idea and other restaurant friends of his told him they liked Tahini.
It should open its doors nine months from now, he said, though he still has 12–13 permits left with the city. The permit he just pulled earlier this month will take him three to six months alone, he said, and he’s getting “mixed messages” about just how long it’ll be until he can open up.
As to the price of the food, Majthoub said he still didn’t know. He wanted to be priced like other eateries on the street and said he planned to charge what nearby Mexican restaurants do.
“I’m going to match the taquerias around me,” he said, referring to La Taqueria and Taqueria San Jose on the same block. ”For $10 you get a burrito. I’m gonna try to stay on par with them.”