Kibberia is one of my favorite restaurants.
The Middle Eastern food is fantastic: fresh, healthful and flavorful. The prices are great. And Nick Iskandar is one of the nicest, happiest and most generally helpful restaurant owners I’ve ever met.
Kibberia recently marked its 1-year anniversary on the Westport-Norwalk town line (it’s on the site of the old John’s Best). That seemed like a good time to ask Nick what it takes to survive in this area’s cutthroat restaurant environment.
“The first few months were definitely not easy,” he says. The brutal winter weather kept many people home. The small plaza is not well lit; town regulations limit signage. Middle Eastern cuisine is unfamiliar to many diners.
Yet those were just bumps on the road to building a new business.
“When people taste it, they like it,” Nick says of his menu. He’s seen a steady increase in takeout orders. Nearly every day, he caters lunch for at least one office nearby. And — parents say — their kids love his hummus and falafels.
That’s one surprise. So is his wholesale sideline.
Unprompted, a customer suggested that Nick sell his products through stores like Mrs. Green’s.
It took a while, but he started in 4 locations. Now he’s in 15 — including items not in his restaurant.
He was surprised too when Patricia Brooks called last spring. She’d enjoyed her meal there, and planned to review it for the New York Times.
She gave it a “good” rating — in Times-speak, just a step below “phenomenal” — and that drove customers. So did a nice writeup in the Hearst papers.
Always, Nick is experimenting with what works. He began opening on Sundays. It’s his slowest day, but loyal customers want it.
He added live music on Saturdays, but BMI — the music rights firm — is coming after small businesses like his for licensing fees. So he’s cut back considerably.
This has been an enjoyable year for Nick. He’s learned a lot. The Westport Kibberia is different from his 1st location in Danbury: different customers, different rhythms, different expectations. Yet he’s adapted well — and is looking for a 3rd location, possibly in Mt. Kisco.
It’s not easy for any new business — particularly a restaurant — to survive here.
But — as his ever-growing customer base attests — the rewards can hit the spot.