The interior of the former Russell Stover Candy Kitchen at 320 East 51st Street has been painted a vibrant Mediterranean yellow, and the refrigerated display cases are packed with Middle Eastern sweets, including baklava and chewy cookies, in plastic-topped boxes.
Two weeks ago, brothers Jawad Hijaz and Jalal Mansi opened this storefront as Sahara, a fast-casual dining venue serving traditional Middle Eastern fare. Yesterday, a large group of young diners, mostly UMKC students, waited outside for the restaurant to open at noon.
The dining room seats nearly 100 people, says Mansi, and customers order one of the featured dishes at the counter.
The menu is a full-color laminated sheet with photographs of each dish, including falafel plates, chicken shwarma, gyro sandwiches, hummus and lamb. Sahara serves dinner weeknights until 9 and weekend evenings until 10. The meat dishes are prepared only with Halal meat: certified lawful for observant Muslim diners.
The pita bread served at the restaurant is from Jawad Hijaz's former employer, the Olive Cafe, an East Side bakery and market that's opening its own midtown restaurant location later this year.