Ali Baba Is Now Baba Dari
The Dari family ventures into Middle Eastern fast food.
by Sally Mitani
From the March, 2017 issue
Brothers Omar and Adnan Dari opened Ali Baba in an old gas station at Packard and Hill in 1991. "They gambled. Everyone said they wouldn't make it," says Adnan's son Mo.
The brothers not only made it, they raised their families on what Ali Baba earned. "That's four adults and eleven children," marvels Mo, who began working at the restaurant when he was thirteen. He repeatedly stresses that it's a family business--so much so that they don't even have job titles. Only after some prodding does he admit that they "kind of have areas of specialization" and his is marketing, which is why he is doing the talking.
Now an outgoing thirty-seven-year old with a prematurely gray beard, Mo is not only a good talker, but a sharp observer. He calls out a welcome to a young woman ordering a pita wrap at the counter--and asks what she's doing up here from Bowling Green.
Amy Fan grins and replies that she's now a U-M student. She and Mo know one another from Eat at Oasis, a seven-store Ohio chain that's also owned by the Daris. Though Mo grew up in Ann Arbor and misses it, he lives in Toledo. He opened seven Cottage Inn franchises there, sold them, and then went to work with family members building Eat at Oasis.
Now they've turned Ali Baba into the prototype for their newest venture, Baba Dari. They stripped the one-time gas station to its bones, removed a drop ceiling to reveal the original roof trusses, and built a "theater kitchen."
Meanwhile, Karam Dari, another family partner with no title except "he's in charge of flavors," pared down the Ali Baba menu and coaxed it into the popular fast food "build your own" mold. "We stuck to six proteins: beef kebab, chicken kebab, beef shawarma, chicken shawarma, falafel, and gyro." The first four are halal; falafel is vegan; and the beef/lamb gyro is neither. The six proteins can sit atop seasoned rice
or mujadarah or be tucked into a thick or thin pita wrap. From there, any choice can be topped with vegetables and a sauce. Rounding out the menu are a few salads, soups, and desserts. Mo says the simplicity allows orders to be cranked out in three or four minutes.
Baba Dari isn't a one-off--there will be more, possibly many more, but it's too early to give details, says Mo. He will say that the next two Baba Daris will be "in the Ann Arbor-Saline Rd. area and the Jackson Rd. area," but he hasn't yet signed any leases.
Mo keeps leading the conversation and the credit back to his father and uncle. They're now retired but still live in Ann Arbor. What do they do now? "They hang out. They go from one family gathering to another, from one family business to another. You just missed Omar."
Baba Dari, 601 Packard. 998-0131. Daily 11 a.m.-midnight, possibly open Wed.-Sat. until 3 a.m. or later. babadari.com
[Originally published in March, 2017.]
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