Buffalo Grove’s Firewood Kabob passes important review
Firewood Kabob owner Jamal Amr shows off his new restaurant Dec. 3 in Buffalo Grove. | Buzz Orr—Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 21, 2013 6:03AM
BUFFALO GROVE — When he opened his first restaurant, Jamal Amr invited an inspector to look over his operation.
But as the man walked through the dining area and kitchen of Firewood Kabob, Amr’s six employees were bewildered — the inspector did not work for the village, the county or even a vendor.
“The guys asked me, ‘What’s going on?’” Amr recalled of the man’s visit in late September, a week after Firewood Kabob opened on the southeast corner of Buffalo Grove and Aptakisic roads.
The inspector was a man whose review was crucial to Amr: He was Falah Tabahi, owner of the Pita Inn in Skokie, and Amr’s former boss. Amr uses an uncommon cooking style for his meats, and he fretted about what his mentor would say.
At Firewood Kabob, Amr prepares his Middle Eastern recipes for chicken and beef over an open flame from wood, bringing a barbecue method to dishes traditionally cooked over charcoal.
“It just gives natural seasoning to the meat,” he said.
Eliminating the charcoal fumes keeps more juice in, Amr theorizes.
Having worked for years in Skokie, learning from Tabahi, Amr decided a year and a half ago that it was time for him to try his own recipes. Much of the map was open for him as he scouted more than 30 locations, some as far away as Miami, before settling on Buffalo Grove.
“It just had everything,” he said of the storefront that once held the Asian restaurant Dragonfire, and now seats 45 in 2,000 square feet.
Part of Amr’s business plan is to keep expenses — and thus prices — low. By serving his products with disposable plates and cups, he eliminated five bus-boy positions and dish-washing expenses.
At the end of this summer, with the location set up, the grill in place and his own staff hired, Amr was ready to open. But he waited, and set another opening date, then pushed it back again.
“I was afraid,” Amr said.
He ultimately announced a third opening date, Sept. 24, and kept it. He has been building a customer base since then.
“People, they came like ... I’ve never seen something like this,” he said.
One of those people was Tabahi. Amr’s mentor was uncertain of his protege’s business and cooking choices.
“He said ‘You’re crazy to do this,’” Amr recalled.
But after tasting some of the wood-fired samples, Tabahi gave his blessing.
“I still feel like he’s my boss,” Amr said.