Zankou Chicken co-owner branching out – to tacos
A member of the family that created Zankou Chicken is staking his name — actually his brother's — on his ability to replicate the success of the rotisserie chicken chain with a new Mexican restaurant called Ara's Tacos.
Steve Iskenderian, 34, is hoping that customers will line up for Mexican-flavored, spit-roasted chicken and beef the way they do for Zankou's chicken tarna and beef shawarma when his new restaurant opens today.
It shares a building with a Zankou restaurant, which Iskenderian co-owns, at 901 W. Glenoaks Blvd. in Glendale.
As half a dozen fresh-faced new hires took turns practicing dishing up the perfect taco portion of steak and attempting to master the art of rolling a burrito, Iskenderian explained that the genesis for Ara's Tacos came last fall when he learned that the space's former owner, Sidewalk Cafe, was going out of business, the Glendale News-Press reported.
"I saw it as an opportunity to diversify our portfolio, so to speak," Iskenderian said. "Why put all our eggs in one basket?"
Iskenderian said he considered taking the Sidewalk Cafe and revamping the salads-and-sandwiches concept. Instead, he chose a concept he liked — Chipotle Mexican Grill — and improved on it.
"I eat at Chipotle, I respect what they did, but there's more room in the playing field," he said. "I thought, I could do it better — better food, more authentic food."
Like at Zankou, whole fresh chickens from L.A. Poultry will be deboned and marinated at the restaurant, Iskenderian said.
Iskenderian co-owns nine Zankou Chicken restaurants with his mother, Rita Iskenderian, and his three brothers — including the new restaurant's namesake, Ara. However, he is the sole owner of the new enterprise.
What distinguishes Ara's Tacos from similar restaurants, Iskenderian said, is freshness of ingredients, and the use of the slow-rotisserie cooking techniques that have driven Zankou's success. Although many taco trucks use spits to make al pastor pork tacos, Iskenderian said he's doing something different.
"It's shawarma style, but with Mexican spices," he said. "Who out there is doing chicken al pastor style?"
-- Daniel Siegal, Times Community News
Photo: Owner Steve Iskenderian is opening Ara's Tacos in the same building as Zankou Chicken in Glendale. Credit: Raul Roa / Times Community News