Shawarma chef enjoys self-employment on Fry Street

Shawarma chef enjoys self-employment on Fry Street

Shawarma chef enjoys self-employment on Fry Street
March 02
19:43 2016

Kyle Martin | Staff Writer

@Kyle_Martin35

Nestled between Jack in the Box and Voertman’s on Hickory Street is an almost-empty parking lot—save for a bright red food truck that serves Shawarma wraps, falafel, burritos and hamburgers. Monday through Saturday every week, Moroccan aromas from Mama’s Kitchen fill the surrounding air. 

Shawarma, an Arabic style of meat preparation, is No. 1 on 39-year-old Nazha Oukhallou’s menu at the Kitchen. The process traditionally involves cooking raw meat on a spit—commonly lamb, beef or chicken—while it rotates in front of a fire or other heat source. Depending on the cook’s preference and the type of meat, it can take up to a day to completely cook.

After the meat cooks, it is either served with sides, like hummus, fries and vegetables, or wrapped in pita bread and served as a sandwich wrap. Oukhallou serves beef or chicken Shawarma wrapped in pita bread with lettuce, cucumbers, parsley, onions, pickles and garlic sauce.

Nazha Oukhallou cooks inside her Mama’s Kitchen food truck that is parked on Fry Street. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Nazha Oukhallou cooks inside her Mama’s Kitchen food truck that is parked on Fry Street. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

“I love cooking,” Oukhallou said. “In my home in Morocco, they cooked a lot. Cooking is my hobby.”

Her truck contains a flat iron grill, a salad station, a stove, a fridge and freezer and a $4,000 ventilation system required to safely operate a food truck in Denton. Lettuce, chicken, tomatoes, onions, pickles, beef and spices fill the interior. The brand-new truck and its appliances alone were a $40,000 venture, not including things like food, gas or insurance.

But Oukhallou said she is pleased to be in business for herself doing what she enjoys: making food.

The business side of things get tricky—obtaining permits for operation, finding a place to set up shop and attracting customers are all issues at hand when running a food truck—and her husband Abdelilah Chennaoui said finding a successful location isn’t always easy. 

“Persistence pays off,” Chennaoui said. “That’s the only way you can survive.”

The owners of the family-run truck said they’re happy with the new location and have an amiable relationship with the landowners.

After studying for three years in Morocco and earning a hospitality degree, Oukhallou worked in a hotel for a few years, further developing her culinary skills.

Working on a food truck is entirely different than working in a restaurant because there is less politics involved, she said. 

The bright red food truck is parked across the street from UNT campus, bringing home cooking to students. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

The bright red food truck is parked across the street from UNT’s campus, bringing home cooking to students. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

There are no servers to tip out, no bartenders to deal with and no general managers screaming about busing table six while tables 12 and four need napkins, a side of mashed potatoes and another kitchen sink.

Nazha Oukhallou, better known as mama owns and operates her Mama’s Kitchen food truck which parks across the street from UNT campus. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Nazha Oukhallou owns and operates her Mama’s Kitchen food truck which parks across the street from UNT campus. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

Ultimately, the truck deals with two main things: food and hungry customers.  Other issues like limited space, filling up on gas and finding a spot to park arise. But once all the fine details are hashed out, it’s all about making food for hungry people, and that’s the beauty of it. 

Rock Aljohin studies English as a second language at UNT and is an international student from Saudi Arabia. No stranger to Shawarma, Aljohin said Mama’s Kitchen serves authentic-tasting food.  He said he came to UNT because the university had a lot of different majors to choose from and Denton was an ideal and appealing college town.

When asked about Mama’s food, Aljohin’s answer was simple: “It’s delicious.”

Shawarma is more than just a Moroccan idea or a sandwich. It’s part of the Mediterranean culture. Oukhallou said she chose to serve such a dish because it’s familiar, healthy and part of home.

“It’s so famous for Arabic people—Syrians, Palestinians, Saudis, Indians, they know Shawarma,” Oukhallou said. “This is what I know.”

Featured Image: Nazha Oukhallou, owner of Mama’s Kitchen food truck, cooks her food made to order and in under ten minutes. Hannah Ridings | Senior Staff Photographer

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