Twenty-two years ago, three international students at Arizona State University opened a restaurant in Tempe focused on healthy Mediterranean dishes at an affordable price.
The name - Pita Jungle.
Today, it has arguably become a household name known for its hummus, salads and wraps. Over the years, Pita Jungle has expanded to more than a dozen locations around Arizona, including Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson.
The trio -- co-founders Bassel Osmani, Fouad Khodr and Nelly Kohsok -- are back with a new concept focused on seafood, and are set to embark on its maiden culinary voyage next month in Scottsdale.
Last week, ABC15 was invited to Grand Blue to talk with Bassel, see the restaurant and get a glimpse at the menu. The restaurant is located in the shopping center near Shea and Scottsdale Road, a stones throw away from Pita Jungle's headquarters.
WHAT IS GRAND BLUE?
For many, seafood can be considered a luxurious culinary option. A nice lobster tail or surf-and-turf is usually on the menu at a high-end, upper-class restaurant and comes with a high-end price tag.
Bassel said he wants Grand Blue to "bridge that gap" between quality seafood and the bill the customer sees. He also wants it to be offered in a comfortable and casual atmosphere similar to Pita Jungle.
Grand Blue will offer guests a "mosaic of food," said Bassel, with options from around the world, including sushi, poke, tartars, oysters, salmon, clams and swordfish.
(For the non-seafood eater, there is chicken, steak, burgers and salads on the menu, too!)
Bassel said he wants to offer guests a variety of small plates, which helps keep the price point down without skimping on portion size. Dishes will range in price between $6 - $14. Seasonal seafood will depend on market price.
"What we're doing is out of passion," he said, noting that seafood restaurants are a tough business considering food costs and how long it lasts.
Dishes include make-your-own Poke bowls, sushi rolls, octopus a la plancha salsa verde, Peruvian-style ceviche, "seawiches" like fish reuben and fish shawarma and "seasoups" like chowder and mussels.
If you're looking for a little pizzazz, the "OMG" roll is set on fire. There is also the "ninja" roll which features a generous chunk of wasabi shaped like a ninja's face.
There is a stocked raw bar which has lobster, shrimp and oysters that people will be able to pick from.
Next to the raw bar is a market where people will be able to buy a variety of seafood to take home, like salmon, seabass, oysters, shrimp, lobster and swordfish. The options will depend on the catch, availability, sustainability of the fish and time of year.
THE INTERIOR, BAR AND PATIO:
The interior of Grand Blue is typical of seafood establishments -- blue and white are the predominant colors. It has a nice open feel. The open-air kitchen is close to the market, which is attached to the raw bar and overlooks the dining room. They have a nice-sized bar with indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a large patio.
The paper tabletops and wine glasses add a touch of sophistication without making the atmosphere feel stuffy.
With Pita Jungle's success, is the company looking for Grand Blue to do the same? According to Bassel, right now he and the team are focused on getting the launch right. If it sticks, sure it's a possibility, but it's not the immediarte goal.
Grand Blue will open to the public on Nov. 1, which is coincidentally the exact date when Pita Jungle first opened in Tempe in 1994.
IF YOU GO:
7318 E. Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale AZ 85260
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