CLOSE
Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions
LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

M.J. Gazali jumps up from his chair to greet customers by name at his long-running restaurant near Drake University.

"How are you guys?" Gazali asks. "It's good to see you!"

Gazali's Mediterranean Grill has been serving chicken shawarma, gyros, falafel and other Greek delicacies from its location at 1205 25th St. since 2003, but plans by an Iowa development firm to makeover the block where it sits has raised questions about the restaurant's future. 

"Right now, the plan is to stay put and see what the future holds," Gazali wrote on Facebook last week. 

Interested in Iowa food news? Follow @briantaylorcarlson on Facebook, @BriinDSM on Twitter and @briindsm on Instagram.

Drake University is selling land it owns east of its campus for a new $63 million development that would include up to 300 apartment units, townhomes and street-level retail space.

Buildings that are currently home to a Great Clips, a branch of U.S. Bank and Gazali's Mediterranean Grill would be demolished. The former Varsity Theatre building would remain, but it would be remodeled and reopen as a movie theater.

"Gazali’s began as a family owned and run restaurant in the '80s," Gazali's said on Facebook. "Mom, my brother, Mario, and the whole family, brought her recipes, hard work, diligence, and mostly, love, to its creation."

He moved to Des Moines from Los Angeles in 2014 to take over the family business. 

Gazali's brother, Mario, started the restaurant in the late 1980s at Valley West Mall. It has moved around a few times since then, with stops at the Cobblestone Shopping Center in Urbandale, Southridge Mall, the downtown Younkers building, West Glen and another West Des Moines location.

Mario Gazali now owns Open Sesame in the East Village neighborhood. 

M.J. Gazali said he knew about the project a few weeks before it was announced last week. 

He said he would like to remain in the same spot after the construction of the new buildings. The restaurant was recently expanded into a vacant space next door that once housed Copycat Prints, increasing capacity from 20 seats to 60 seats.

Merge Urban Development Group said it plans to negotiate with existing businesses — which lease their spaces from Drake — with the goal of moving them into the development's new commercial spaces. 

"The positive thing is that there will be more residential foot traffic that they bring in," Gazali said. "Then, the movie theater, which I'm really happy about, they are going to renovate it. It's going to look really cool and nice. But what's sad is all this history is going to go for a more modern thing."

For the time being, it will remain business as usual. But if he has to move, Gazali is confident the restaurant will continue to thrive. 

"People follow us and people love Gazali's," he said. "And we love them. We are grateful for that. People support us, especially as a local business."

The restaurant was recently named 2019's "#1 Place to Eat in Des Moines" on Yelp.

Gazali said he still has plans to build a beer and wine bar along the south wall. He will be releasing three new menus in the weeks ahead: Veganly Yours, Glutenly Freed and VeggieMate.

More: Dash to these neighborhood eateries in the Drake University neighborhood

"Our slogan is 'We serve from the heart, not from the freezer,'" Gazali said. "Because everything is made to order fresh and that's what our mom taught us. We treat everyone like they are in our house, with love. The memories of mom and the hard work and the passion she put in here, we'd like to stay here."

Gazali's family includes nine brothers and sisters. The family's matriarch, Tofika, whose recipes provided the basis for the restaurant now lives in Beirut, Lebanon.

Don't miss an opening or closing. Sign up now and we'll email you with big news.

Gazali's Mediterranean Grill

Location: 1205 25th St., Des Moines

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.; Sunday, 12 p.m.-3 p.m.

Contact: (515) 309-9167; gazalismediterraneangrill.comFacebook

Menu highlights

The menu is made up of wraps, sandwiches, salads, sides and desserts. For $4 extra, wraps and sandwiches can be turned into a basket with the choice of a small Greek salad, potato chips, potato salad or soup and a beverage. Any sandwich, wrap or salad can be made spicy by request.

  • Gyro - Lamb gyro with tomato, cucumber, onion, romaine lettuce and house-made tzatziki ($8.95; extra lamb, $4)
  • Garlic Chicken Shawarma - Grilled chicken, house-made garlic sauce, tomato, onion, pickle, romaine lettuce and mayo ($8.50; extra chicken, $3.50)
  • The “Bareger” Vegan Burger - House-made burger with quinoa, rolled oat flour, flax flour, black beans, roasted corn, green pepper, roasted red pepper and spices, served on a bun with hummus, red onion, tomato, pickle and romaine lettuce ($7.95)
  • Falafel Salad - Falafel, romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, olives, pickle, house-made hummus and dressing, tahini-tartar sauce and croutons ($10.95)
  • Baklava ($3)
LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/entertainment/dining/2019/07/01/gazalis-mediterranean-grill-restaurant-drake-neighborhood-construction-uncertain-its-future-near-me/1576775001/