Boulder’s Falafel King is celebrating its 40th year in business.

The Mediterranean cafe’s signature falafel (made from ground chickpeas with vegetables and spices, and deep fried as small balls), wraps, and grilled meats remain ever popular with locals and tourists alike, said Avner Gilady, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother, Amnon.

“Customers also love our Turkish coffee,”  Gilady said.

What keeps bringing them back to his small joint at 1314 Pearl St.? A smiling Gilady has a simple response.

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

Misbah Siddiqui prepares food for a customer at Falafel King on Aug. 7.

“We use high-quality ingredients, and we haven’t changed the recipe since we bought the restaurant from the original Jewish owner from Israel in the early ’80s,” he said. “He taught us everything. We bought the key and the knowledge.”

The presence of a large number of vegetarians and vegans in the Boulder and Denver area has helped, he said.(Falafel King also has a Denver location).

Falafel King is one of many successful, long-standing Boulder restaurants, said John Tayer, president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber. Mustard’s Last Stand and Boulder Cork are other examples, he said.

One consistent theme of successful, non-chain restaurants in Boulder is they are constantly paying attention to evolving customer taste, Tayer said.

“They work diligently, contain costs while providing highest quality food and great service,” he said.“Just like the independent spirit and unique character of the Boulder community, Boulder residents tend to appreciate independently-owned restaurants with unique personalities.”

A restaurant’s success is related to the right balance of menu selection, consistency in taste and quality and service, said Mary Ann Mahoney, CEO of the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau. Boulder is lucky to have many restaurants with great histories, such as The Sink and The Flagstaff House. They help bring in visitors to the city, she said.

The city also has restaurants at different price points, Mahoney said.

“Falafel King is like a magnet,” she said. “It offers fresh, flavorful food, which is very consistent.”

Gilady, who immigrated from Israel in 1977 , downplays his charming persona, easy outgoing manner and his brief-but-engaging chats with customers as contributing to the restaurant’s success. He’s there seven days a week, taking orders and helping the “undecided” find the right meal.

“My goal is to make customers happy,” he said.

Gilady’s presence adds to the friendly ambiance of  the restaurant, and keeps the employees energized, said Falafel King manager Misbah Siddiqui, an immigrant from Pakistan.

Alejandra Alvear juggles multiple roles at the restaurant, often working 40 to 45 hours a week. She said Falafel King’s location and the diversity of people it draws add to the charm of working with Gilady.

In her more than a dozen years at the restaurant, Alvear said she hasn’t found any upset customers.

University of Colorado Boulder student Julia Jess has been coming to the restaurant since she was a student at Boulder High.

“The food is good and the service is quick. You can pop in and pop out,” she said.

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

Alejandra Alvear makes a plate of food during the lunchtime rush at Falafel King on Aug. 7.

Boulder native Courtney Hancock also loves the food at Falafel King. It isn’t too expensive either, she said.

The food mostly ranges from $8 to $13.

Gilady said the restaurant is able to keep the prices relatively modest because of the wholesale business his brother runs.The Giladys’ large kitchen on 55th Street produces falafel mix, pita, hummus, and many different sauces for retail sales as well as for the restaurant.

“We fry falafels and make fresh salads at the restaurant,” Gilady said. “We buy all materials in bulk and pass on the savings to customers.”

The profit margins may be thin, but the joy of seeing satisfied customers is worth a million bucks, Gilady said.

Restaurant longevity

A partial list of successful restaurants in downtown Boulder. Information provided by Downtown Boulder Partnership

Since the ’80s

  • Pasta Jay’s
  • Rio Grande Mexican restaurant
  • Nick-N-Willy’s Pizza

Since the ’90s

  • Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery
  • The Med
  • Jax Fish House
  • Pearl Street Pub
  • Foolish Craig’s
  • Japango

Early 2000s  (prior to 2005)

  • Lazy Dog
  • Mateo
  • Sherpa’s
  • Frasca
  • Lindsay’s Boulder Deli @ Haagen Dazs
  • Leaf
  • Black Cat

Notable closures in 2018 and 2019

  • French Quarter Brasserie & Oyster Bar on the Pearl Street Mall,
  • Squared Pizza and Beer at 1123 Walnut St.,
  • Ted’s Montana Grill at 1701 Pearl St.
  • Emmerson at 1600 Pearl St.

Why restaurants fail?

New research from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business shows that even during the 2008-09 recession in Denver, less than 20% of restaurants failed. The national average is 30% failure in the first year. However, certain types of Denver restaurants (American, Italian, Chinese, Mexican) were more likely to fail depending on their location. In addition, health code violations was a sure predictor of restaurant failure, no matter the location or type of restaurant.”

— From  “Why Restaurants Fail? Part V: Role of Economic Factors, Risk, Density, Location, Cuisine, Health Code Violations and GIS Factors,” a study by  hospitality management Professor H.G. Parsa and four co-authors, published in the International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration.

Professor Parsa had earlier made a longitudinal study of restaurant failures in Columbus, Ohio. He found the failure rate for restaurants was 57 to 61 percent for a three year period (1996-1999) – still high, but much more in line with other businesses.

His review of other published studies also suggest failure rates of restaurants to be closer to 60% or less after three to five years. Many restaurants close not because they couldn’t succeed financially, but because of personal reasons involving the owner or owners, Parsa said.

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