When Quicken Loans moved its first several hundred employees to its new downtown headquarters in the Compuware building last month, many Quicken workers spent their first lunch hour grabbing Middle Eastern food at the nearby CK Mediterranean Grille on Monroe Street.
What they may not have realized is that it was CK Mediterranean’s first day in the Compuware complex, too.
The owner, Ouse (rhymes with “house”) Gulli, 34, had just opened his newest location in what is quickly becoming a multi-state haven for Middle Eastern fare.
Since he opened that downtown eatery in late August, Gulli has opened his first franchise location of a CK Mediterranean Grille & Catering in San Diego, Calif., giving him four locations in all, including two in Oakland County.
He’s also negotiating for other sites in and around Detroit, as well as talking to potential franchise investors in Florida, Texas and Arizona. The small chain has about 50 employees and expects to do about $4 million a year from its four locations.
Gulli said last week that CK Mediterranean’s success is because of America’s quest for food that is fresh, healthy and delicious.
“Today, there has to be hundreds of thousands of Asian restaurants,” he said. “There’s hundreds of thousands of Mexican restaurants. I feel that there’s a gap in Mediterranean that needs to be filled. And with God willing and hard work, I think we could fill that void.”
The story began when Gulli, the son of Chaldean immigrants, and his family bought a gas station in Berkley in 1996. They rebuilt it in 2000, and along with selling gas, created what became a popular take-out location for Middle Eastern food.
Soon, Gulli was getting requests to cater company events.
Jump ahead to 2008. Gulli opened the company’s first dine-in restaurant, called CafÃ© Kabob, on Evergreen in Southfield.
Along the way, Gulli was getting invitations to appear on local TV cooking demonstrations, where he advocated a Mediterranean-style diet, often praised by nutritionists for its reliance on fresh vegetables and healthy preparation techniques.
The most popular entrÃ©e? Chicken shawarma, a dish usually mixing shredded chicken with garlic and other ingredients. Salads are a big seller, too, along with the ever-popular hummus.
Now the pace of expansion is picking up, with the new downtown Detroit site opening in August and the San Diego franchise opening this month. Some day, Gulli said, CK Mediterranean Grille may be as well known as many national restaurant chains.
“Seems like there’s a big push with this Mediterranean theme,” Gulli said. “You walk into any Costco or supermarket, you’ll see shelves of hummus. I think it’s hitting the mainstream. We have a head start on it.”
The restaurant business, of course, is difficult. But Gulli, like many sons and daughters of immigrants, is living his dream of succeeding in the U.S.
“It’s a lot of work, my friend, a lot of work,” Gulli said. “Being that I’m CEO, I never stop working. I’m in the stores or I’m on the computer. My work never ends.”
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