By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Ashur Zai’s dream was to open a restaurant. So, when he married his wife, Nikki, in May 2018, the two embarked on a culinary journey with Agapi Pita Mediterranean Grill in Scottsdale.
“We love this kind of food and we hope others do as well,” Nikki says. “Ashur always wants to add more to the menu. I have to tell him to slow down. He has so many recipes. He does it out of love. He loves to cook.”
“Love” is the operative word here, as “agapi” is Greek for “love.”
“When you do it from love, everything turns out good,” she says. “I think it’s the energy. Every day we’re getting return customers.”
The Glendale couple have won over the Scottsdale Airpark businesses with their steak and chicken shawarma and their gyros. The chicken shawarma ($10.50) comes with marinated dark and white chicken, served with rice, pita bread, tomatoes, onions and Tzatziki sauce. Steak can be added for $3.50.
The steak plate is marinated beef, broiled on a vertical skewer, thinly sliced and served with rice, pita bread, tomatoes, onions and Tzatziki sauce for $10.75. Chicken can be added for $3.50.
Gyros, pork, salmon, steak and hummus, and chicken and hummus plates are available, too, for $10.50 to $12.75.
Nikki hails from Chicago, while Ashur, who is Syrian, moved here from Sweden. Nikki’s Windy City influence comes through via pizza puffs ($7 for two). The pastries are filled with pork sausage, mozzarella and pizza sauce.
Ashur puts a Mexican spin on hummus by adding cilantro and jalapeno ($5.25, includes two pitas). The hummus is house-blended chickpeas, tahini olive oil, fresh garlic and lemon juice. Traditional hummus is available, too, as is baba ghanouj (eggplant). Lentil soup ($3.50), dolmas ($5.50), vegetarian platter ($10.25) and falafel and hummus ($9.75) round out the appetizers.
Salads—Greek, Mediterranean and Caesar—are available with or without protein. Unsure about Mediterranean food? There are chicken tenders, fish and chips and hamburgers on the menu, too.
Ashur makes everything from scratch with natural ingredients without MSG or chemicals. He keeps a keen eye on what customers order and what they toss because, perhaps, they didn’t care for the dish.
“I try to find what’s going on,” he says. “I’m very observant with customers.”
Food has a heavy hand in both of their lives. Ashur’s family cooked together, while Nikki’s brother owns restaurants around the Valley, including Olive Mediterranean in Phoenix and Pita Heaven in Chandler. He helped the couple start Agapi Pita Mediterranean Grill.
“He helped us with the back-end stuff,” says Nikki, whose father cooked in private residences in his home country of Iraq. “All the recipes are my husband’s, though.”
The Scottsdale Airpark location was perfect for them, as Nikki’s sister has a salon in the same shopping center. The location is a former hot dog restaurant.
Agapi Pita Mediterranean Grill has proven the couple can be successful, but there’s another benefit.
“It helps with his English,” Nikki says with a smile. “He speaks pretty good for only moving here in 2016.”
Ashur adds, “When I moved here, it was very hard for me. I wanted to find a good wife and family. It’s hard to move to a new country and start with zero. I was very, very upset with my life when I moved here—then I met Nikki.”
The Zais help each other accomplish their dreams.
“His dream was to open a restaurant, and when we moved in, we couldn’t believe it was ours,” Nikki says. “It was so surreal. I wanted him to just pinch me. He was very excited, and for both of us it’s been a new adventure.” ν
Agapi Pita Mediterranean Grill, 13802 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 130, Scottsdale, 480.626.9224, agapipita.com, email@example.com.