New restaurant trend "Mediterranean" assembly line

There seems to be a new trend in restaurants. The two places I’m familiar with are Mezeh Mediterranean Grill — http://www.mezeh.com — and Cava Mezze — http://www.cavamezze.com

The setup is line an assembly line, like at a Subway sandwich place or at a Sweet Green or Chopt salad place.

There are several “layers” —

First you choose a base—rice bowl, lettuce, flatbread wrap, or pita pocket

Then you choose from several different meat options or falafel

Then you choose from a few dozen vegetable options like tabbouleh, couscous, hummus, etc.

Then you choose from about a half dozen sauces, like tzatziki, tahini, etc.

I wasn’t impressed with either of those places. I found them generally bland and the meat especially to be tasteless.

I wondered if anyone else has encountered this style of restaurant and what their experiences were and a few other questions like —

Is there a specific origin for this style of cuisine, like Greek or Lebanese or is it sort of a generic eastern Mediterranean style?

Does the assembly line form come from any specific origin or is it just an American thing based on Subway-style restaurants?

Who started this American trend and where?

Is there anyone here who likes this style, either the chains I’ve encountered or some other place? What makes it good or bad? What are in your opinion good examples of this kind of restaurant?

Is this popular because it’s perceived as being healthy?

Thanks.

I think it is popular because it is fast.

The assembly line approach seems to be a fairly easy way to get efficiency out of what is effectively a serial process. It is used by multiple types of fast-food purveyors:

[ul]
[li]Sandwich shops (Subway, Goodcents)[/li][li]Pizza (Pie Five, Papa Murphy’s)[/li][li]Mexican fare (Chipotle)[/li][/ul]

One could probably say that it is a way of doing a “controlled” buffet: rather than having a buffet out front and letting customers grab whatever quantities they want, the buffet is controlled and portions regulated by the server. In itself, that is also probably safer than, say, a salad bar or a buffet.

Looks like the places you mentioned have applied the same principles to Greek/Mediterranean food.

Not sure if it is a new trend. Chipotle has been around nearly 20 years and Subway for longer than that.

I’m not asking about the assembly line trend in general. Of course I know about Subway, Chipotle, etc. I even mentioned them in my OP. I’m asking specifically about the Mediterranean assembly line-style restaurant.

The trend is called fast casual and Chipotle was really the template for it more than Subway. I have also seen it for Indian, Salads, and Pizza. Wave of the future.

Again, my questions are specifically about Mediterranean restaurants and the food they serve, not the general trend.

I have a friend who started a restaurant like this in a college town. To my surprise, she is doing quite well!

She seems to be targeting vegan, vegetarian and food-sensitivity types. So instead of having to go in to the place and find something “close enough” then making a bunch of customizations to suit your special needs, everyone is in charge of coming up with the best meal they can eat and not having to go through the possible discomfort/embarrassment of asking for special changes.

I honestly don’t know what inspired her to create this sort of eatery. She’s not of Mediteranian heritage. I do know that she had her own hummus recipe that was wildly popular among friends and family, so perhaps she wanted a venue to sell it and came upon the entire concept.

I’ve also seen the opposite trend in some of the more gourmet places - the menus say “no substitutions!” They will take stuff off of your plate, of course, like if you don’t want hot sauce on something that comes with hot sauce. But they won’t put ketchup in its place. These restaurants tend to be owned by chefs with known names (around town) and are more interested in you ordering their creations than you getting exactly what you want.

I can see the appeal of both.

There’s a Mediterranean place like that near my old workplace. For the longest time, I never went, since it was next to Noodles & Co., but I tried it for the first time last fall. It didn’t blow my mind, and would certainly never replace Gyropolis, with their deliciously buttery and fattening Greek potatos, but it worked. I’ve been back a couple times. It’s another option, but nothing special. I wouldn’t drive back to the Cities or make a special trip to go.

Now the smokehouse in Wicker Park I found years and years ago? Yeah, I’ll be back.

On Top Chef a year ago, one of the tasks was to create a fast casual concept or something like that. The winner did Mediterranean build-your-dish.

I don’t know if Top Chef predates these new restaurants or not.

In other news, there is a place across the street from my office that is just opened that is Med-build-your-dish.

Given the price of lamb – Americans don’t eat a lot of lamb, so U.S. farmers don’t raise a lot of lamb – it’s surprising to see it as the base meat offering from a fast-casual chain.

I’ve seen this place near me Naf Naf Grill that sounds like what you’re talking about. Haven’t tried it yet. They’ve been around for a couple of years.

Then again Arby’s has just started selling gyros, so maybe lamb is a new trend.

On the CNBC show The Profit, one of the businesses was a Greek restaurant that was turned into a Mediterranean fast casual restaurant called The Simple Greek. They only have 7 or 8 locations now, but are planning to expand all over the country.

*Meze *or *mezze *is Persian for little snacks. The flavors and ingredients you described (with the possible exception of undressed greens) are all due to the influence of Ottoman cuisine.

Hiding behind the ‘Mediterranean’ moniker is probably just good business/political sense.

Get used to the ice cream smorgasbord/sneezeguard style restaurant. People just love to customize things. Poke bars, Meze bars, Masala bars, all coming to the mall closest to you!

They probably aren’t using lamb, or at least 100% lamb. It’s more likely a lamb/beef blend.

A food court close to me (in Toronto, Canada) has a similar concept restaurant called Paramount Lebanese Kitchen. There are probably enough people looking for halal options downtown (on top of people who just like the taste of Lebanese food, of course) that it’s worth setting up shop there.

My sons call Cava “Greek Chipotle”, Gusto " Italian Chipotle", and Mod " Pizza Chipotle".

Gyros aren’t necessarily lamb. Around here, they’re likely to be a lamb-beef blend.Kronos is the ubiquitous brand in Chicago. Note the gyros is beef, beef-lamb, or chicken.

At any rate, the Mediterranean places like the OP’s I’ve seen around here do sometimes offer lamb, though often at around a $2 premium over the other proteins.

Speaking to the OP, around here, the Mediterranean restaurants a la the Chipotle assembly line model are Roti, Zaytune, and Naf Naf. I don’t know where and when they started, but I began to notice them about three or so years ago. Naf Naf’s been around since about 2009 in Naperville, but they were just a single, stand-alone place then. They started expanding maybe around 2013, and now they’re all over the place (love their food, especially their freshly made fluffy style of pita. They are, in my opinion, fantastic, but I’ve only been to the Naperville location. Zaytune I was less than thrilled by–it was serviceable, but nothing I would crave, unlike Naf Naf. And Roti I have yet to try.)

Oh, if you go there, I recommend the chicken schnitzel in a pita.

Yikes!

Take away that Sin from the world!
Have Mercy On Us!

So they use a Persian word—Does it have any relation to Persian cuisine or is it just Ottoman cuisine (which is what I guess I have always thought of as Greek or Lebanese cuisine?)