Hungry Pocket: Bringing Mediterranean Cuisine to Santa Monica
“This is the first restaurant to serve falafel in the Western United States, ever!” The owner of Hungry Pocket Falafel House, Jeff Javaherr, shares this with anyone who will listen. During our interview, he reiterated this anecdote several times, but Jeff’s pride in his eatery is exactly what makes Hungry Pocket so appealing.
The Pico Blvd restaurant, located directly across from Santa Monica College’s financial aid office, has been providing Santa Monica College students and faculty with falafel, gyro, and dolma sandwiches for the past 57 years. Javaherr recalls thqat the Hungry Pocket was originally opened by “a Lebanese guy," an entrepreneur who claims he gave away free falafel for one month and a half in an effort to expose Americans to the tastes of the Middle East. Since then, the falafel house has changed ownership four times, the latest being Jeff Javaherr, a native of Iran, who has lived in the United States for the past 40 years.
When you enter the establishment, you are greeted graciously, usually by the charismatic Javaherr, who has a smile that permeates throughout his whole face. Regulars come and go, greeting each other by name. The setting feels like something out of a sitcom, with a warmness that seems like it could only exist in fiction. Javaherr spends 70 to 80 hours a week working at his restaurant, and says: “A small business is very hard to own. When you have a small restaurant, you have less employees. So when employees are sick, or in traffic, you have problems. I’ve been very lucky though, because I have wonderful employees working here with me.”
Despite its proximity to Santa Monica College, the restaurant does not solely depend on students and faculty for business. When asked if business is slower during the summer and winter school vacations, Jeff proudly remarks, “We have been here for 57 years. So people know.” Javaherr recalls that just a couple of weeks ago, a woman who had lived in Santa Monica over thirty years ago returned to Hungry Pocket while visiting her granddaughter who lives in the area. This type of customer loyalty, along with the “always fresh” ingredients and Javaherr charisma, are some of the qualities that help to distinguish his restaurant from its competitors.
Javaherr’s biggest competitors, and the "bane of his existence," are food trucks. “Food trucks are really a problem. They aren’t regulated. They are popping up everywhere and killing all the businesses here," Javaherr exclaims, as he launches into an impassioned diatribe that questions the safety and morality of such vendors. “The customers don’t know what they are eating. There is no accountability. One day the trucks are in one place, the next they are not.”
Despite the throngs of customers one sees during lunch hours at Hungry Pocket, Jeff’s confidence in his restaurant’s success is not unwavering. “Two businesses in this plaza have closed. If the problem of the food trucks is not solved by the city, I might go out of business,” he explains.
Jeff’s passion quickly shifts focus when a customer, who has finished eating, begins to exit the restaurant. “How was everything?”Jeff asks. “Delicious. The same delicious it’s been for the last 25 years!” the customer replies.