Owner, Mr. Hummus Grill
Tarek Albast, the owner of Mr. Hummus Grill, began his career in the food industry as a teen chef in Lebanon. By age 15, he was serving as head chef and managing 22 people in a local restaurant. However, his 14-hour workdays netted him a mere $300 per month. In search of greater opportunity, Tarek decided to move to Columbus and join his father, who supported Tarek’s transition. “He was my backbone in every way,” says Tarek. His mother, who taught him how to cook authentic Lebanese cuisine, stayed behind in Lebanon. Tarek received a green card the same year he arrived and shortly after he graduated from high school. His passion for food led him to enroll at Columbus State’s culinary school, open a hookah lounge and later launch Mr. Hummus Grill. Tarek’s fifth-year in America was bittersweet; he became a citizen, but his mother also died that same year. She had helped fund Tarek’s ventures. “I know she’d be proud of my success today,” he says.
In Columbus, Tarek’s world opened up. “People respect you and appreciate what you do here,” he says. “You make more money — enough to actually live on and build a life. Here in the U.S., people think of you as a human more than anywhere else.” After culinary school, Tarek was able to put his passion for food and hospitality toward opening a hookah lounge. Most importantly, he felt safe in his new environment. In war-torn Lebanon, he lived in a constant state of fear. “In Columbus, I no longer have to worry about walking on a street and getting bombed,” he says.
Of course, it’s challenging to be an entrepreneur in a new country. In his early days, Tarek made financial mistakes and sometimes worked 100-hour weeks. Eventually, both businesses became successful. The hookah lounge serves Mediterranean cuisine and attracts people from all over the city. Mr. Hummus Grill, which began as five food trucks, is now a popular dine-in restaurant. This summer, Tarek will open a second location in Italian Village.
Like most restaurant owners, Tarek experienced severe financial challenges due to the pandemic. Fortunately, loyal customer support kept his restaurants open. Customers have continued to order falafel and shawarma, sometimes tipping upwards of 35 percent. “They tell me, ‘We love your food. Stay strong. We’re not going to leave you hanging,’” he says.
“Columbus is my home now; it has my heart,” Tarek says. “It’s made me who I am today.”