Aladdin's Mediterranean Cuisine serves fresh Middle Eastern food – Courier Journal

I can’t remember who told me I should check out Aladdin’s Mediterranean Cuisine. But when I finally made it over there last week, it wasn’t exactly easy to find.
Navigating around some road closures, I eventually found the restaurant, which is in the New Albany business center known as The Underground Station. As I chatted with owner Mike Sajaja, I learned I’m not the only one who has been having trouble getting to the Bank Street eatery.
“The construction they’re doing downtown (is) just killing business,” he told The Courier Journal. “We used to have a good lunch crowd and a good dinner crowd, … but business has been really bad lately.”
Sajaja says the construction has been going on for nearly five months, although he and other nearby small business owners were told it would be completed in three. He adds that those construction road closures, in addition to the temporary loss of parking stalls due to the city’s annual Harvest Homecoming Festival, have resulted in a drastic drop in revenue.
“I (lost) my regular customers,” he said. “They all stopped coming downtown … because of the construction. A lot of times, the roads are closed (and) they don’t know where to go.”
The Jordan native tells me that he opened Aladdin’s Mediterranean Cuisine in 2013.
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“My wife always loved cooking,” he said. “People love her food, (so) I decided (to) take a chance, open a small place, and see how it goes — and became a real big hit.”
Back then, the restaurant was on Market Street, across from City Hall — but customer parking was a challenge at that location.
“There was no parking, (and people aren’t) going to walk (several) blocks to go to a restaurant,” Sajaja said. “Especially people that are handicapped or have health issues — they want to park right there.”
Sajaja moved the restaurant to its current spot six years ago, hoping to solve his parking woes. But with the current road closures, the issue is just as bad. And like many other restaurateurs, Sajaja is dealing with rising costs. He says he has been able to stay open thanks to delivery and takeout orders — but it still isn’t enough to cover his expenses.
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“Prices went up so much,” he exclaimed. “(The) cost of packaging materials and oil went up more than 300%, (and that’s in addition to the increased cost of) chicken, and beef, and steak. … It’s been a challenge, and we’re not really sure how long we can survive like this.”
Sajaja has his family to run the restaurant with him — his wife, daughter, and son all work there — but ideally, he’d have additional employees. He ended table service at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; and since then, he hasn’t had enough staff to resume. Everything is served in takeout containers, and customers have the option of taking their food to go or dining in.
“We just can’t find help,” he said. “We can’t find servers, (and) we can’t find kitchen help.”
He adds that several of the new eateries that have opened around town are bigger operations; they’re restaurants with multiple locations.
“They can afford to pay a whole lot more than we can, so they attract whatever labor (is) available,” he said. “As a small family business, we just can’t compete with them.”
Sajaja says his lease is likely up for renewal in 2023, and he is considering other options. Every year, he hopes things will get better but feels like it just keeps getting worse.
“We had two years of COVID … and then costs went up so much because of the war,” he sighed. “And the bridge (is often) not accessible. It’s been a challenge staying in business (here).”
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When customers do manage to make it to the restaurant, he said, “people love the food. That’s why they keep coming.”
Sajaja’s menu boasts nearly three dozen appetizers, entrees, and sandwiches, including everything from baba ghanoush and Greek salad to a lamb chop plate and a falafel sandwich. But the most popular pick, he says, is the rotisserie gyro. Available with beef or lamb, the meat is topped with original Tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, onions, and lettuce, then wrapped in a gyro pita.
Customers are also fond of the chicken shawarma, which features seasoned grilled chicken, the restaurant’s special garlic sauce, tomatoes, and pickles, all wrapped in a large tortilla and toasted. Guests also enjoy the chicken curry bowl, which comes with grilled chicken on a bed of rice and diced tomatoes that’s topped with curry sauce.
“And our hummus (is popular), of course,” Sajaja said. “Our hummus is fresh, made several times a day. It’s the best hummus you can find anywhere. … We have the best Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean food in the area. Everything is cooked fresh (and) on the spot. We’re not a fast-food restaurant — we take our time, and everything comes out (perfectly). And it’s healthy food.”
He remains hopeful that construction will conclude soon, and business will bounce back once that happens.
“We love the customers, (and) we love the area,” he said. “We have our regular customers — people that are really loyal and love the food — but the city is making it really tough for us to survive.”
Given the evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic, our weekly restaurant review column’s focus will shift for the foreseeable future. Each week, Lennie Omalza will interview restaurants that are fighting to adapt and survive while serving our community. Please send coverage suggestions to Lifestyle Editor Kathryn Gregory at [email protected] 
WHAT: This is a locally owned restaurant that serves fresh Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine.
WHERE: 37 Bank St., New Albany, Indiana
SERVICES: Indoor dining, outside seating, carryout, online ordering, and delivery via DoorDash and Grubhub; noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
CONTACT: 502-489-7969, aladdinsindiana.com

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