Roland Karam moved to the U.S. from Lebanon at 7 years old.
“We went back when I was about 10 and 11, and I got to experience fifth and sixth grade there, which was nice,” said Karam.
After they returned to the U.S. more permanently, Karam’s parents still sent him back to Lebanon each summer, an experience he is grateful for.
“I built relationships there with family and my grandparents, got to learn the language more and got really familiar with that side of my culture and the food.”
A love for his culture and its food inspired Karam to start a catering company during the pandemic when diners were looking for a way to get a unique experience while most restaurants remained closed.
“We started doing live catering, which was unique. Live shawarma stations and live kebab stations,” said Karam. “We would do anything from birthdays to weddings to engagements.”
Karam launched EZ Kebab, a catering company specializing in Lebanese street food, in 2020 with his brother-in-law Rony Abi Chedid as executive chef and friend Eryck Duran as director of operations.
EZ Kebab set up roasting spits with fresh chicken and beef shawarma, sliced to order.
“We would set them up on site and make fresh bowls and wraps, custom for all guests.” said Karam. “Then we had our live kebab, where we would bring our charcoal grills, and we grilled chicken kebab, steak kebab and kofta kebab.”
EZ Kebab served Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Inland Empire, growing a dedicated following. Then in April, down the street from its catering facility, EZ Kebab opened its first brick-and-mortar location at 1951 Harbor Blvd. in Costa Mesa in an old A-frame building formerly occupied by a Wienerschniztel.
The walk-up window serves the same char-grilled kebabs and spit-roasted shawarma plus falafel and other side dishes the catering company is known for. A 500-square-foot patio offers seating for onsite dining, but the drive-through window makes it possible for guests to get EZ Kebab meals on the go, though Karam said customers should not consider them fast food.
“We do tell people we are quick service, our food is made fresh to order,” said Karam. “We are definitely not fast food. It is more like curbside ordering. You pull up in your car, and we take your order, and someone will run your food to your car.”
Karam hopes to make Lebanese food more accessible for diners who may prefer a quick bite to the commitment of booking his catering services or who may not even be familiar with Lebanese cuisine.
“We want to stay authentic and really educate the public about Lebanese food,” said Karam. “There is so much on the scope of Mediterranean food.”
“Mediterranean food” is a term that can include Greek, Persian and Lebanese cuisine, and while they have their similarities, Karam is eager to share the dishes that set Lebanese street food apart, like kofta kebab.
“Our kofta kebab is a traditional Lebanese kebab. It is ground beef with seasonings, onions, parsley, and that has been a very big seller because that is something new to the community,” said Karam.
Karam said other Lebanese-driven dishes like fattoush salad made with toasted khubz, mixed greens and fresh veggies and lentil soup or shorbet adas made with red lentils have also been popular.
“They are made with authentic seasonings and spices, a lot of which we get directly from Lebanon,” Karam said.
EZ Kebab still operates as a catering company, and Karam hopes to expand the brand with more standalone drive-throughs in Southern California. Mostly, Karam is happy to share his culture with Orange County and hopes diners will find the same joy he found eating traditional dishes in Lebanon.
“I want everyone to know our food is made from love,” said Karam. “Out of love for our culture and out of love for our authentic food. It is made purely with the customer in mind, to enjoy what I enjoyed growing up. I want people to take a bite of a wrap and experience what I experienced growing up.”