Wrapro Falafel & Grill; Cambridge, MA
Samira H., Owner
Documented by Anna Bury
Photos by Wrapro Falafel & Grill
Documented in Fall 2021
I sat down with Samira H., who, along with her husband, Jacques, own and operate Wrapro Falafel & Grille in Cambridge, MA. The restaurant’s Instagram tagline, “don’t feel awful, get a falafel” exemplifies their commitment to serving healthy, high-quality Lebanese food. They’ve remained true to these values over many years of navigating the ebb and flow of the restaurant business.
Grilled falafel wraps | Photo Credit: Instagram @Wrapro
1993 - Starting Out
Samira and Jacques arrived in the United States in 1993 from Lebanon, in their twenties and looking to settle down in the Boston area. Jacques secured a job as the chef at a Lebanese restaurant. He began making all the food homemade on the premises. He introduced and perfected his own recipes for falafel, hummus, and tabouli. He gave the restaurant a new identity through his creativity and his knowledge of food traditions. It was the 90s, and people were excited about Middle Eastern food. The restaurant was very successful, and Jacques stayed on as the chef for 15 years.
2007 - Opening Wrapro
Jacques had always talked about starting a restaurant of his own, but he and Samira never knew exactly when the timing would be right. In 2007, they had three growing sons. Should they wait until they had settled in a house of their own to start their business? Should they secure the business and then look for a house nearby? They decided that they may never feel like everything was perfectly aligned, and that it was time to take a risk and trust that things would fall into place. All on the same day, Jacques quit his
Assembling Falafel Wraps in the Kitchen | Photo Credit: Instagram @Wrapro
job at the restaurant, learned of a retail space available in Cambridge, and immediately went to look at it. Sure enough, things did fall into place and Wrapro was born.
Samira and Jacques designed everything in their new restaurant from scratch, transforming the space into a chic and welcoming café with a full commercial kitchen. The focal point is a unique open kitchen that allows customers to watch their plates being assembled, a not-so-subtle nod to their commitment to authenticity. The layout and the personal touches in the space are reflective of the owners’ willingness to go above and beyond in their care and hospitality. If you look closely today, you’ll even notice some of Samira’s original artwork on the walls.
As they got closer to opening, the neighborhood noticed. When they put their name up out front, people were so excited
that they put sticky notes on the door asking when they were going to open. Opening day came and went. Business was very good. As the lines got longer, Jacques needed someone else to help with all the orders, so Samira would come work at the restaurant after a full day working at her healthcare job in Boston.
She recalled feeling the tension between tending to her own professional growth, raising her sons, and helping with the business. “The restaurant, when it's new, is like a baby. You need
“The restaurant, when it's new, is like a baby. You need to nurture it. If you make mistake it will count against you.”
to nurture it. If you make a mistake, it will count against you.” After much deliberation, Samira decided it was time to leave her job and prioritize taking care of her sons and supporting the restaurant.
Quality and Tradition: The Wrapro Way
Wrapro serves healthy, fresh food. It’s all homemade. The recipes are traditional Lebanese recipes with a chef’s unique twist. Jacques makes his own spice mix for the falafel, the shawarma, and the chicken. I (Anna) have sampled it many times and can confirm that no one can beat his falafel.
He prepares tabouli fresh twice daily. Tabouli is made with bulgur, a whole wheat grain that is not common in the U.S. but is a staple in Lebanese cooking. Samira recalled making homemade bulgur with her father in Lebanon. He would buy a 100-kilo bag of wheat, unbleached, and then boil it for a long time, dry it, clean it, and take it to the mill. Because the bulgur is parboiled like this during processing, when it’s mixed with tomato and lemon in tabouli, it absorbs the liquid and becomes easy to digest.
As any restauranteur will tell you, finding the right ingredients takes time and attention. The most important thing they purchase for Wrapro is the pita bread. Pita is a very delicate bread, with two thin
layers and a hollow center. It’s difficult to make well. Samira and Jacques tested multiple local suppliers, but ultimately found the best product from a supplier based in Canada. Because of the long distance, the bread order comes weekly and it’s a very large order, 108 loaves. Samira described the process of opening the loaves as tedious work, even making their hands numb sometimes.
Preparing ingredients for tabouli | Photo Credit: Instagram @Wrapro
Grilled chicken with shawarma spices | Photo Credit: Instagram @Wrapro
Falafel bowl | Photo Credit: Instagram @Wrapro
“To be successful, it’s important to know how to manage the food.”
For Samira, it is also very important to keep the quality of the food consistent. Despite significant challenges and unexpected changes that the COVID-19 pandemic sent their way, they found new ways of being creative and adapting. For example, before COVID-19, they would cook around 40 pounds of chicken and steak, shawarma style, on a big stick.
But during COVID-19, with fewer customers, that would have created too much waste. They started grilling the meat in smaller quantities, but kept
the spice mix the same to preserve the unmistakable flavor of the shawarma. To be successful, Samira shared, it’s important to know how to manage the food.
2016 - Unmet Expectations
Jacques is very ambitious, and he always had a dream that they were going to open multiple restaurants and start a family business chain. In 2016, they had their opportunity. They had good workers, good friends, and the timing was perfect for their son to take on the management of the second store. It
seemed like the best next move for them, but this time, their expectations were different from reality.
After opening the second location, customer numbers were lower than expected and they were getting less foot traffic from the nearby colleges and universities than they had anticipated. When one university’s cafeteria workers went on strike, their numbers shot up during those two weeks. They expected that level of business all the time, but instead, it
“I would rather have a healthy family than being wealthy.”
Freshly prepared dishes at Wrapro | Photo Credit: Instagram @Wrapro
became clear that they were managing two stores and only profiting from one. All the work and traveling back and forth between locations was wearing their family down. At the end of 2019, they made the difficult but necessary decision to move out of the second location and to put their focus back on their original restaurant. Samira couldn’t help but wonder where they might be now if they had been able to work for themselves when they had first arrived in Boston in 1993. Would they have multiple stores and managers to help operate them by now? She reflected for a moment, then returned to her usual positive and upbeat demeanor to remind me of their commitment to their family above all else. “I would rather have a healthy family than being wealthy.”
Lessons from the Business
When I asked Samira about the biggest thing they had learned in the business, she didn’t hesitate when answering. “It’s hard work. It’s really hard work. If you think opening a restaurant is easy, don’t do it.” There is an immense amount of labor and dedication needed to keep a restaurant up and running. It’s
“My husband, he’s the owner, the chef, the server, the accountant. If you don’t know how to do everything in the restaurant, you cannot run a restaurant.”
not work for the faint of heart or for those not willing to do the hard work. “My husband is the owner, the chef, the server, the accountant. If you don't know how to do everything in the restaurant, you cannot run a restaurant.” Even the owner must not be above cleaning the floors and windows if that’s what is needed. Jacques always tells my son, “Don’t let the workers jeopardize your operation.” Meaning, workers may come and go, but responsibility always rests on you as the owner.
Looking back, of course there are some things they might have done differently, but Samira saw everything as an opportunity to
learn along the way. She also shared that being in this business has given her a deeper appreciation for people who work in the service industry. “I have more appreciation for people because I’ve been doing this for so long. I know how hard it is.”
2021 - Transitions
Even now, their sons are grown and they’re looking ahead to another transition. Samira is pursuing a biology degree to work in the medical field when they eventually move on from the restaurant business. Things are always changing, she reminds me. And from the way that they’ve skillfully guided their family and their restaurant over the years, it’s clear that they’ve adapted and grown through the changes.
After learning Samira and Jacques’ story, I’m confident of this: in business and in life, we may not be able to do things as we’ve always done them, but we can find new ways to adapt, and that’s what makes us the people we are continually becoming.
Double Toasted Chicken Falafel Wrap with French Fries | Photo Credit: Instagram @Wrapro