Chicago-based Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill has signed an exclusive development deal with Indianapolis-based 316 Investments, a well-seasoned franchise operator, to open 10 locations around the state, including multiple units in the Indianapolis area.
316 Investments will own and operate all the Indiana locations. It’s scouting now for a location for its first restaurant, which it hopes to open by the end of this year.
“We’re just starting to do serious site selection the last couple of weeks,” said Greg Willman of Carmel, who owns 316 Investments with Phil Salsbery of Indianapolis.
Willman said he and Salsbery are looking at possible locations in downtown Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel and Avon. Down the road, they plan to expand beyond the Indianapolis area into Bloomington, Lafayette and Fort Wayne.
Naf Naf, which means “fan the flame” in Hebrew, is an expression used to invite friends and family to gather for a meal. The fast-casual restaurant’s menu includes chicken shawarma (slow-roasted chicken), marinated steak and falafel served in a pita or as a salad or in a bowl, with a variety of toppings and sauces.
The typical Naf Naf store occupies 1,800 to 2,400 square feet. The food is prepared fresh in-house, and each location bakes its own pita bread daily. Customers order their food by walking along a serving line and telling an employee what they want.
Naf Naf opened its first restaurant in 2009 in Naperville, Illinois. It now has 37 restaurants in Illinois, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.
Naf Naf’s founder, the late Sahar Sander, was originally from Israel and based the restaurant’s menu on his family’s recipes.
“It’s an emerging kind of a category. We think that it has a lot of growth potential associated with it,” Willman said.
Willman and Salsbery have experience in bringing new concepts to central Indiana.
In 1998, 316 Investments was one of the first franchise groups affiliated with Colorado-based fast-casual Mexican chain Qdoba. At the time, Willman said, Qdoba had only a handful of locations.
At its peak, 316 Investments owned and operated about 40 Qdoba locations in Indiana and South Carolina. Willman and Salsbery sold most of their Indiana Qdoba locations back to the company in 2011. They exited Qdoba operations altogether in 2016, though they do retain a small ownership stake in the Qdoba brand.
Between 2006-2012, 316 Investments also operated a Steak 'n Shake in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They sold that location and development rights to the surrounding area to another operating group.