By Jordan Houston
With more than 25 years of experience in the food and beverage industry under his belt, including stints with some of the industry’s biggest names like Cinnabon and Five Guys, Marwan Kandeel wanted to test his expertise.
Recently, the Jordan native founded De Babel, an authentic Middle Eastern fast-casual restaurant located near the Scottsdale Airpark, and he hasn’t looked back since. But what makes the already wildly successful eatery unique is its discreet location, Kandeel explains.
The first-time restaurant owner says he chose the hidden spot, located at 14884 N. Pima Road, to test out a theory.
“Because I’m so passionate about food, I have a lot of recipes in my mind. I felt that I had a product to sell; I have a product to serve,” Kandeel says. “I wanted to know if people can put in an effort to find me.
“I chose a location that is some kind of hidden — not a bad location, but some people need to put effort in to find it. So, if people put the effort to find me, then I’m 100% certain that I have a product. This proves my point that I do have a product and the concept is complete.”
Kandeel’s theory appears to be paying off, as customers from around the Valley are visiting De Babel Monday to Sunday at all hours.
De Babel specializes in Middle Eastern fare with fan-favorite dishes such as crispy falafel, hand-carved shawarma, lamb kafta, appetizers and hummus. The kitchen is scratch and headed by master chef Suliman Saleem, a 25-year veteran who specializes in Middle Eastern food.
“I always wanted to do something just the right way that I wanted,” Kandeel says. “We do everything from scratch; we don’t have a food or meat freezer.”
He notes that the restaurant does import pita from a 102-year-old bakery based in New York, though.
The space boasts black framed photos featuring imagery from all corners of the world, including street scenes, artisans, foods and places of worship across the Middle East. Kandeel says each photo has inspired him in some capacity.
“A lot of photos are from Middle Eastern cities where I’m bringing a dish, sauce or recipe from that city,” Kandeel explains. “It’s a message that this place is for everybody. I have all of the cultures and all of the religions all the way.”
The name De Babel also stems from a religious concept. The term is a Hebrew word for Babylon, which was the capital city of the ancient Babylonian empire founded over 4,000 years ago.
“Babel is my ode to the authenticity of the brand, because it is very authentic food and because I can’t find an older city,” Kandeel shares. “And it’s all modest cooking.”
In Jordan, Kandeel had a passion for cooking and quality cuisine. After spending several of his teen years helping at a local Italian restaurant, he moved to Dubai in 2001.
It was there his “real” professional career began, Kandeel says.
“The minute I landed in Dubai, I decided I wanted to be a professional in this industry,” he explains. “Because when I landed, it was super fast growing. It was like a train that is slowly moving, but every minute it is increasing in speed.
“You either decide to grow and be professional or be left behind,” he continues.
Kandeel worked on the operations side of major corporate entities throughout the Middle East, such as Cinnabon and Five Guys. The foodie was later recruited to work for Sheraton Hotels in Texas before settling down in Arizona.
“I needed a bigger place or bigger city for my growth,” he says. “I visited Arizona for the first time in January 2021, and I was so in love with the area from the minute I entered the airport.
“I always wanted to open up my own business. I struggled to find authentic cuisines.”
De Babel opened its doors on July 13, and Kandeel says he couldn’t be prouder.
The restaurant has amassed an impressive five-star rating on Yelp, with scores of customers leaving positive reviews. It’s also open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
“To me, this is a dream. I’m so proud that, in my old life, everything I learned didn’t go to waste,” Kandeel says. “I’m so proud I used all my resources and all my skills, knowledge and experience I have in this business. From day one, I did not struggle. I had a safety system.”
A father of six, the restaurant owner adds that he hopes to use his resources to support organizations dedicated to raising awareness for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
One of Kandeel’s son’s lives with the disorder, he explains.
“I want everyone to know about ADHD,” Kandeel says. “At one point, I want to contribute to ADHD and contribute myself to the awareness of ADHD and how to manage those cases. It’s so important, even for families without ADHD kids. They need to learn about this.”
Those living with ADHD may have trouble paying attention or controlling impulsive behaviors, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Although it can’t be cured, symptoms can be successfully managed through the right treatment methods, the organization says.
As far as the restaurant’s future, Kandeel says he wants to expand when the time is right.
“I want to grow when I’m ready, definitely,” he states. “I want to grow to be reasonable. I don’t want to open stores for the sake of just counting how many stores and showing off how many I have. I want every new store to be a duplicate of the success we have here.”