Skip to comments.Iowahawk: Council Votes to Extend Inspections of Rogue Restaurant
Posted on 02/21/2003 10:41:14 AM PST by IowaHawk
Schaumburg, Ill. - Flamboyant restaurateur Sammy 'Falafel King' Mahmoud received an eleventh-hour reprieve Thursday night when the Schaumburg Restaurant Association's Hygiene Council voted 3-2 for continued health code inspections at his beleaguered Golf Road diner.
The move came as a blow to Department of Public Safety officials advocating a shutdown of the restaurant after more than 12 years of continued health code violations.
Voting in favor of continued inspections were Hans' Schnitzel Haus, Jade Dragon Take Out, and Frenchie's Fine Restaurant Supply. Voting for immediate closure were Outback Steakhouse and Ira's Kosher Deli. Two neutral council members, Bombay Buffet and Fun-Du!, abstained.
The decision brought a cheer from Mahmoud, 53, who declared, "is very very good happy, ebrybody come on a down for the free baba ghanoush."
Last night's decision also brought a stern reprimand for the Schaumburg DPS, which has sought to close the controversial restaurant, home of the infamous $0.39 'Guess-a the Meat-a Pita,' which is thought to be connected with a recent salmonella outbreak.
"We must stop this mad, headlong rush to eviction," said council president Frank 'Frenchie' Boucher, owner of Frenchie's Fine Restaurant Supply. "We need to give the inspections time to work, and we have seen no evidence that links Falafel King to the so-called salmonella epidemic."
"Besides," added Boucher, "Sammy is one of my best customers."
Problems Date from 1991
Controversy has swirled around Mahmoud since 1991 when he and several Falafel King busboys were caught burglarizing and vandalizing the nearby Tabouli Palace.
Mahmoud was identified by high-tech security cameras stealing kebob skewers, stomping tahini packets and urinating in the rival restaurant's hummus.
Alarmed by the incident, the Schaumburg Restaurant Association asked for assistance from local police and DPS officers. The celebrated 'Operation Dessert Tray' of 1991 netted five arrests, but Mahmoud escaped and returned to Falafel King where he locked himself inside the women's room.
When pursuing Schaumburg DPS officers entered, what they discovered was a shock.
"Live roaches in the couscous, fermenting mayonnaise, you name it," recalled Schaumburg DPS officer John Lombardi. "It was disgusting. Half the kitchen help tried to surrender to us, but they were handcuffed to the sink."
While successful, the 1991 raid exposed deep rifts between the DPS and the restaurant community, according to Schaumburg dining industry strategic analyst Gloria Murphy.
"The DPS wanted to shut down Falafel King on the spot, but the restaurant association interceded," said Murphy. "Many thought closure would dangerously destabilize the region and lead to all-you-can-eat lunch buffet wars. Some feared a horror on the scale of the TGI Fridays - Bennigans conflict."
Lacking a search warrant and a mandate from the take-out industry, DPS officials agreed to a compromise settlement with Mahmoud, citing him for numerous misdemeanors including operating a public nuisance, failure to pay sales tax, slavery and running an unlicensed indoor goat farm.
Under terms of the agreement, Falafel King agreed to periodic inspections and a no-delivery zone between Hoffman Estates and Elk Grove Village.
Sanctions Lack Bite
At first, the brokered sanctions seemed to keep Mahmoud in check. However, as memories of the 1991 Tabouli Palace raid faded in public memory, he became more emboldened.
After several high-profile confrontations with blue-capped Restaurant Association inspectors, he ejected them permanently in 1996, accusing them of spying.
"Inspectors I say no very good buddy, try copy Sammy special kibbeh spice," Mahmoud claimed in a 1996 interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel.
Mahmoud's lawyer, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke, also charged that the inspectors were "lackeys of the police and their corrupt capitalist puppet masters at Krispy Kreme."
In response police stepped up enforcement of the no-delivery zone, only to be accused by human rights groups of genocide for cutting into the tips of Falafel King delivery drivers.
The slow pace of inspections and lack of cooperation from Mahmoud prompted police to increase electronic surveillance, some of which was released last week.
In testimony before the Hygiene Council Feb. 13, police Sergeant Ted Knapp released dramatic footage shot inside Falafel King.
The video showed smoke-yellowed dining room, rats scurrying across faded 1985 travel advertisements and black velvet belly dancers decorating the walls.
Two mange-infested dogs were seen pulling their hindquarters across a sticky linoleum floor and Mahmoud is briefly seen picking his nose while restocking the salad bar by hand while two unidentified employees offloaded trucks labeled 'Cicero Rendering' and 'Illinois DOT Highway Cleanup.'
While Knapp's testimony was described by some as compelling, many on the council were unconvinced. Boucher argued that evidence supported continued inspections, while council member Nam Park of Hoon Cho Kimchee accused police fabricating the video. He later offered Mahmoud $5 for the dogs.
Police and DPS officials continue to seek evidence against Mahmoud, but have been unable to persuade Falafel King defectors to go on the record for fear of reprisal from Mahmoud's strongarm son, Todd.
"Sure, many of Mahmoud's employees are intimidated," said Arlington Heights restaurant analyst Bob Westergaard. "But he does have a genuine base of support."
"Some love seeing Sammy 'stick it to the man,' and he has been successful at creating a cult of personality through his extravagant lifestyle," said Westergaard. "You know, the White Owl cigars, the flashy Members Only jackets, the gold chains, the elegant 1992 Lincoln Continental, the virile mustache and uni-brow."
Recent events show Mahmoud's support has also grown beyond the restaurant community. Despite the long-standing allegations, Mahmoud has received vocal encouragement from a local campus as well as several civic, religious and arts organizations in his showdown against the Schaumburg DPS.
"I don't care what the cops say, it's a lie," said Brian Olczniak, 21, a student at Schaumburg Area Vo-Tech who participated at a recent campus eat-in. "It's all about olive oil."
Rally organizer Janet Morris, a professor of typing at the college, agreed. "There must be a better way," she pleaded. "Disinfecting is never the answer."
Falafel King has also received an outpouring of support from the Schaumburg arts community, including Paint-a-Pot, Medieval Times, and the Woodfield $18.95 Dinner Theater.
Several stars from the theater's production of Cats recently traveled to a peace summit at Falafel King, including Norm Graebers, Debbie DiGregorio and the cast's new 'Rum Tum Tugger,' Sean Penn.
Despite the multilateral interests lined up behind Falafel King, Schaumburg police Sergeant Ted Knapp remained unfazed.
"We welcome the cooperation of the Restaurant Association, but this is ultimately a matter of public safety," said Knapp in a tersely worded announcement after the vote. "We will not be held captive to the whims of a few overpriced greasy spoons."
Knapp refused to specifically comment on a caravan of garbage trucks amassing on Golf Road late last night, but said, "The time is coming to take out the trash."
"And believe me," added Knapp, "you don't want to mess with the Schaumburg sanitation union."
Thanks, David. Absolutely hysterical!
I'm still thinking it's a true story, even if the details are made up.