LA GRANGE – Bilal Beiram had been unemployed for a year, and with a wife and four kids, he knew he had to find work.
The 45-year-old has an engineering degree and a master’s degree in accounting, but couldn’t get a job – his credentials, in fact, handcuffed him as companies hired younger people for less money, he said.
“I was even willing to start all over from the beginning at a company with an accounting job,” Beiram said. “It just wasn’t there.”
What he did next shocked many of his friends, understandably so.
“I sold my house,” Beiram said. “I took the equity from my house and put the money into this.”
This, turned out to be Falafelji.
On Nov. 7 last year, Falafelji opened at 3910 S. Harlem Ave. in Lyons. Beiram, who grew up in Jordan and moved to the U.S. at 18, had plans to introduce area residents to the food he loves.
“I really had a lot of doubts when I opened over here,” he said. “People told me … there’s no Middle Eastern people … I said, ‘That’s OK, I’m going to take that gamble.’ We did struggle in the beginning until the word started getting out.”
Within a few months, customers from neighboring towns, including many from La Grange, were stopping by for tastes of falafel or chicken kabob, Beiram’s best seller.
By the middle of the year, the restaurant was doing well enough that Beiram decided it was time to expand to a second location, which he plans to open this week at 13 S. La Grange Road.
“I actually had my eye on La Grange for a very long time,” Beiram said. “… It reminded me of overseas, more like the Middle East where people just walk to do everything, [or like] Europe.”
The La Grange Falafelji will offer the same menu and seating. Beiram has hired two decorators to create a Middle Eastern theme – part of the seating area will take on a Bedouin tent-look with seat covers made from traditional fabrics. Next summer, Beiram hopes to have outdoor seating, too.
“It adds to the diversity of the food scene in La Grange,” Beiram said. “La Grange has a great food culture. The only thing that’s missing is Middle Eastern food. And it seems like there is a good demand.”
Beiram is more than happy to fill in the void. At 10, he already was spending summers working in a small falafel shop in Jordan run by his grandfather, who had been a cook in the Jordanian Army. For a few years in the mid-80s, Beiram and his brother ran a Middle Eastern restaurant called The Nile on 63rd Street and Kedzie Avenue in Chicago.
“It’s my culture. It’s my food. … I like to expose it,” he said. “I like everybody to know about it and try it and be hooked on it.”
So far, his plan seems to be working. Beiram said customers enjoy the food because it simply tastes good and is much healthier than typical fast food. The Lyons location has done well enough that Beiram took the second half of equity from his old home and invested it in the La Grange location.
“Everybody tells me I’m just a gambler,” he said. “But I said, ‘No, the business is good. In a couple of years, we’re going to be doing really well.’ Once we get known in the western suburbs that this is the place for good Middle Eastern food, that’s it. We’re set.”