Organic burger joint Burger 7 and fast-casual Middle Eastern restaurant Pita Pouch may not seem to have much in common on the surface. But they share an owner in Ramzi Iskandar, who is poised to gear up both concepts for further expansion later this year.
Iskandar, CEO of IRG Concepts LLC and a veteran of the Four Seasons hotel group, first got into restaurants with the opening of Mediterranean restaurant and hookah bar Tarbouch in Arlington several years ago. He quickly learned his family couldn't survive on one restaurant concept alone. "So we had to diversify a little," he said.
Enter Burger 7, the organic and halal grass-fed burger joint he first opened in Falls Church in 2011. Since then, that chain has grown to three locations, and Iskandar has tweaked its concept along the way (it first specialized in customizable burgers, and now emphasizes pre-set burger combinations). By the third quarter of this year, he expects they'll be ready to sign franchise agreements to expand the burger company to a broader audience. Sam Saa of Metropolitan Restaurant Brokers, who is helping the company find franchise partners, says they're looking to expand in such neighborhoods as Baileys Crossroads, greater Baltimore, Alexandria, Fairfax, Vienna, Springfield, and Arlington, among others.
But Iskandar, who also works as a restaurant consultant, hasn't limited his own personal projects to burgers. A trip to Turkey and his own familiarity with Middle Eastern cuisine convinced him that a fast-casual restaurant focusing on dishes like shawarma and falafel could work here, especially since there's less competition here for that speciality compared to say, pizza or Peruvian chicken (competitors locally include the rapidly-expanding Cava Grill and Roti Mediterranean Grill).
The first Pita Pouch opened in May of 2015, and another debuted in Tysons Corner last December. The restaurant allows customers to choose their protein, toppings, etc., with options like falafel, steak shawarma, white beans, and pickled eggplant helping to customize the order. The menu draws from Turkish, Palestinian, and Israeli cuisine, Iskandar says, unlike some similar concepts which tend to lean more Greek in their ingredients and influences.
In order to expand more widely, Iskandar needs to open a commissary kitchen that allows them to prepare such intricate menu components as hummus, fattoush salad, and fried cauliflower, on a larger scale. He's close to finalizing a deal for that kitchen space, which means Pita Pouch could also be looking at a wider expansion across the area around the third quarter of this year. Saa says they're exploring both franchise agreements and additional corporate locations in similar neighborhoods to Burger 7, and they wouldn't rule out an eventual international expansion, either.