Shweeni's a family adventure in life, fine dining

6/13/2014

By RENEE JEAN

By RENEE JEAN

rjean@gctelegram.com

For Neil Kapadia, life is an adventure you take with friends and celebrate with family — and that is just the sort of experience he and his partners hope to offer at Garden City's newest restaurant, Shweeni's, now open in the former Wheat Lands Restaurant and Lounge at 1408 E. Fulton St.

You'll find a few Mediterranean items on the menu — something under-represented in the Garden City cuisine scene, but make no mistake. This is not a Mediterranean restaurant. There are many traditional options on Shweeni's menu. Ultimately, however, Kapadia believes the restaurant, which is named after his daughter Ashweeni, will defy easy categorization.

Kapadia and his partners have lots of ideas about eating adventures they'd like to bring to the Garden City scene. Brazilian barbecue for one. Mongolian barbecue for another. And sushi.

"I want to be able to serve all kinds of food, so when they come here, they feel, they say, 'I'm excited. I go here, and I know I can find anything,'" Kapadia said. "We have the know-how to serve all kinds of food. I have people who can prepare good Mexican, we can serve Mediterranean, Indian and American."

He also hopes that people in this multicultural community can come to the restaurant, tell the chefs what mom or dad made for them back home and perhaps on the next visit, with a little advance notice, the chefs can prepare that dish especially for them.

Kapadia and his partners have adopted the attitude of always learning for their restaurant, which is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

"We have sent our chefs to Wichita to learn different techniques, and we are going to do that every two months. Send them to learn new things," Kapadia said.

Jamal Kahala, along with Harry Patel, are Kapadia's partners in the new venture on the Fulton Street side of town. The three hope they are helping to revitalize what used to be a more vibrant economic sector in the community.

Wheat Land's had a convention and meeting room, and still does. That is, in fact, the only part of the facility that remains nearly the same.

"Wheat Land's restaurant was a mainstay of the community for 30 years," marketing manager Lynn Schoonover says. "So to update and renovate this building was one of the prime focuses of the owners. They wanted to really make it stand out again."

The building has an all new interior design to match its fresh paint. There's a cozy corner bar, and water features are also on the way to accompany all the good food.

The recipes at the restaurant have been developed out of a lifetime of cooking fine food from many different cuisines for family and friends. Kahala has a mechanical engineering degree, but he and his three brothers all grew up cooking in the kitchen.

"Mother would say, Jamal, it's your turn to go in the kitchen and start making some food for us," he recalled. "And that's how I started learning to make food."

Kahala eventually obtained a job in the kitchen at an iHop, and worked his way up from there to general manager. He and his four brothers now work together to manage the kitchen at Shweeni's, along with a longtime friend named Brashir, who met Jamal when they both worked for iHop 20 years ago.

These guys not only enjoy being creative together in the kitchen, but share a camaraderie born out of a long history together, which further feeds their creative spirit.

"We are four brothers, all of them married, and night time, 9 p.m., that's family get-together time. We make dinner for us and get together and eat. Every night in our house is Thanksgiving night."

The brothers are just as generous about sharing their food visions with friends, Schoonover says.

"They bring a lot of pride and a lot of family tradition in cooking. Americans think about eating a lot of time as just nourishment, but for them, it's a cultural thing, a family thing."

She recalls how one day, out of the blue, Jamal decided he was going to prepare a special meal for the employees, and, in no time at all, there was a table spread with fragrant lamb chops and rice layered on a puffy pillow of what appeared to be gouda cheese.

"I thought it was cheese, but it was really a tortilla," Schoonover said. "They soak it in something, and it puffs up and has the consistency of cheese. It was delicious."

The family style dish, called mansaf, is traditionally eaten with the hands.

"It was an event, not just a meal," Schoonver said. "That's an element they bring to it, making it a very personal dining experience. They take great pride in being able to see that people are enjoying their meal. It's not like anything I've ever experienced before."

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