We might title the story of the birth of My Shawarma "From Rome with Love," since that is where a Corning native, private practice lawyer Gabe Rossettie, met his wife, Shena, while on break from college, and where their friend Tony introduced them to the richness of traditional Lebanese cuisine. But it might better be called "From Toronto with Love," since it was there that this delicious idea, born in January on Market Street, was actually conceived.
In 2013, Gabe, reuniting in Toronto with a group of college pals, was sitting in a shawarma restaurant on Bloor Street. "It struck me," he recounts, "that this kind of food should be as prevalent as burritos are. The flavors are so interesting, and the spices...it's adventuresome food. It's colorful. And I'm looking at my lunch and I'm thinking, 'Why can't I get this in Corning?' And I started talking to my friends, sitting there, and they said, 'Well, you ought to start a shawarma place.'"
The melting pot of Toronto had plenty of shawarma: Syrian, Lebanese, and Turkish. "I lived there for a few years and I ate this food all the time," says Gabe. He chuckles now at the memory of that lunch. He wasn't Middle Eastern. He wasn't a restaurateur. But why couldn't they recreate authentic, high quality ethnic food? "We realized that if we could learn the recipes and learn the restaurant business, which is the other part of it," he says wryly, "that we could do it. So my wife and I started working up a concept for a brand and for a menu and for the whole program. We just wanted to make it simple."
Or as simple as is possible with a cuisine whose flavor base is a veritable Spice Route: turmeric, cumin, ginger, paprika, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, and cardamom are all staples in this kitchen. Gabe and Shena came up with the name together and opened My Shawarma, excited to introduce a fresh new fast food to their hometown. Shawarma, which is technically spit-roasted meat, has also come to mean the flavorful at bread-wrapped sandwich containing meat and, at My Shawarma, savory house-made toppings like hummus, tabbouleh, harissa garlic sauce, tzatziki, and house pickled vegetables, among others (pictured, left, at the hands of manager Troy Goho). The pursuit of authenticity and highest quality led them to a Lebanese bakery in Pittsburgh for their shawarma flatbreads and the most perfectly moist, nut-studded, honey-drenched baklava to be had anywhere around these parts.
"This is globally popular fast food that's really high quality and flavorful and fresh and it's just a different flavor pro le from what people are used to when they walk into a fast casual establishment" says Gabe. "People get burritos, people get salads, people get used to the standbys. And we wanted to make it that kind of experience."
Corning, with its global reach and global appeal to travelers, has embraced the taste.