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AQ/TBD Team Going Fast-Casual with Sababa, A New Falafel Concept

Authentic stuffed pitas and mezze from a CIA-trained Israeli chef.


High-end restaurant groups making inroads into fast-casual dining has become a new trend in SF, with Daniel Patterson joining Roy Choi for healthy fast-food chain Loco'l and Saison's Joshua Skenes planning Asian noodle shop Fat Noodle. Now, the folks at Mercer Restaurant Group, the engine behind AQ and TBD, are joining the party: they're working on a new fast-casual falafel shop, Sababa.

The project is the brainchild of Guy Eshel, a longtime AQ cook and CIA grad who's also an Israeli native. After cooking his childhood favorites for family meal on "Mediterranean Mondays," he brought his business idea to head honcho Matt Semmelhack, who's been helping him refine the concept. Sababa doesn't have a location yet, but they're targeting a downtown or SOMA home for what Eshel dubs "the Chipotle of falafel." The menu is relatively simple: falafel, eggplant and egg, grilled chicken, or shredded beef, available on a soft baked pita with hummus and tomato-cucumber salad, or as a salad bowl with accompanying mezze like quinoa tabbouleh, beet-yogurt-za'atar salad, and shredded Moroccan carrot salad. Also in the mix: a full topping bar, with pickles and sauces for customization. On the drinks side, Sababa will offer limonana, a blended slushy-style drink of lemonade and mint, as well as cold-brew coffee slushies and a small beer and wine selection.

To help get Sababa (which is Israeli slang for "awesome" or "cool") off the ground, Eshel is doing a pop-up at Deli Board every Monday in March, from 6-9 pm. Meanwhile, Mercer is plotting two more projects set to emerge in 2015: French brasserie Bon Marche, which will debut in the Twitter building later this spring, and Cloverdale bakery/market/restaurant Trading Post, due later this year. TBD is also in flux after its recent fire, due to which it's now been closed for over two months; Semmelhack says that when it does reopen, he's considering dropping the restaurant's live-fire cooking conceit, though that decision hasn't officially been made yet.


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