Regular customers of Café Shawreen at Rollins Avenue and East Jefferson Street in Rockville may have noticed something different. In place of the cafe is Oh Mama Grill.
The new restaurant, which serves Middle Eastern food such as falafel and shwarma, reopened under new ownership last month. Riki Alkoby and her husband, Izhak Levi, bought the business from Mina Torabi in July.
Torabi had been running the business as a kosher restaurant that was certified by the Rabbinic Council of Greater Washington. Alkoby said her business, which opened in late August, has been recertified as kosher.
The Israel-born Alkoby also wanted to repaint the walls of the restaurant, add a shwarma machine and remodel the kitchen. Customers can now watch employees prepare their food directly behind the counter.
Alkoby said she had worked in a restaurant while in Israel, but since moving to the United States, she has spent her career in the locksmith business and, most recently, real estate.
“It was kind of a dream to open a restaurant,” she said. “I had guests in my house who tasted my food and they said, ‘Open a restaurant.’ At first it was a joke, but then we decided to do it.”
The name of the restaurant, Alkoby said, came from the lighthearted remark “Oh, mama” that comes from her friends and family who enjoy her cooking.
Alkoby said that she and her husband chose the location based on its proximity to a large number of Israelis who live in nearby apartments, including many who work at the Israeli embassy.
She said Torabi gave up the business after becoming sidelined with a back problem, but did not elaborate. Torabi did not return telephone messages.
The lunch line at Oh Mama Grill was almost out the door on a recent early afternoon, with customers excited to try the new eatery. Rita Sultan, of Silver Spring, who was standing in line, said she used to eat at Café Shawreen and looked forward to her meal in the new restaurant.
At a table nearby, Rabbi Steven Suson of Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim said he liked the food.
“I came and brought my dad here from out of town and we enjoyed a delicious shwarma and falafel,” he said.
Alkoby said she was optimistic about the future of her business.
“If it stays like this, it’s going to be good,” she said.