Smash Falafel’s grand opening in downtown State College will offer Penn State students something unique to expand their taste buds.
The restaurant, which is located at 214 E. Calder Way near Underground Burgers, held its grand opening on Sept. 11.
Hitham Hiyajneh, the owner of various eateries such as Yallah Taco, Pita Cabana and Underground Burgers, opened Smash Falafel as an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant.
Even though Hiyajneh owns and operates a variety of restaurants in State College, Smash Falafel’s cuisine is something he experienced while growing up in Lebanon.
“When I made a [falafel] sandwich it brought back memories because when I was a kid I used to eat this kind of stuff,” Hiyanjneh said.
Hiyajneh intends to target students who are looking for fresher, vegetarian-friendly options on a budget. He also intends to give a portion of the proceeds to refugees.
“There’s not a lot of vegetarian options, even we sell meat in this place,” Hiyajneh said. “But we’re trying to get people to get a fresh look at things.”
Penn State student Julia Stella agrees college students need to try to be healthier, and said it’s nice to have alternative food options.
The colorful restaurant specializes in two Middle Eastern delicacies — falafel, a Middle Eastern food made with chickpeas and a variety of spices, and Za’atar fries, French fries with Za’atar spice.
“I love falafel, I’d really want to check it out….I’m excited to try it,” Madelyn Vasquez (freshman-marketing) said.
She added she’s never had Za’atar fries, but loves falafel “with everything.”
On the other hand, Stella (senior-marketing) has never tried falafel, but thinks it’s “pretty cool” to have a place that specializes in such cuisine.
The fries and falafel will be made and fried as they are ordered to ensure the restaurant’s promise of fresh food.
Hiyajneh said he is proud is to be serving fresh toppings, fresh homemade pita, freshly-fried falafel and fries.
Along with Middle-Eastern inspiration, Smash Falafel draws inspiration and flavor from Hiyajneh’s other restaurants.
When ordering, students and town-dwellers may choose a base of a sandwich, rice bowl or salad for their falafel, which always served as a meatless dish. If customers aren’t in a falafel mood, Hiyajneh added non-vegetarian options of chicken, meatballs and shrimp to the menu.
Stella had not heard of the restaurant and suggested Smash Falafel and other restaurants that are hidden in State College should “make sure they market it well and get the word out.”
Hiyajneh is not done with his business venture, and is thinking about taking “Smash Falafel” to another city, possibly opening one in Pittsburgh next year.
“People love the concept,” Hiyajneh said. “It’s a good concept and we want to expand it.”