Jan. 15, 2024 By Maxwell Murray
Despite swirling rumors of closure, one of western Queens’ beloved eateries is here to stay.
Since its establishment on 43rd Avenue in the late 1980’s, Souk El-Shater, initially founded by brothers Ahmad and Mehdi Osman, has become a community favorite, drawing in food-enthusiasts from all over the city and providing a slice of home for so many Lebanese New Yorkers.
The restaurant, now located on 43rd Street and Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, was never planning on closing, but when Ahmad Osman and his sons finalized their move to Arizona, whispers of El-Shater’s closure began to take hold, ripping through western Queens and shocking many loyal patrons.
But with just a simple step inside, customers have found reassurance that Souk El-Shater is not only here to stay but is also gearing up for growth.
“We told another person today that ‘no, the place isn’t closing.’ In fact, we have a 10-year lease, so we’ll be here for a while,” said new owner, Jason Wehbe, whose cousin Abdul has been working at El-Shater since 2011.
Wehbe, who had been coming to El-Shater since he was a kid, is taking the reins from Ahmad’s family, with the help of Abdul.
“I grew up in Long Island City and although it wasn’t down the block, we’d always head over here,” said Wehbe, who is of Lebanese descent. “It felt like everybody in our community knew the Osmans.”
El-Shater initially opened on 43rd Street and 43rd Avenue, run by the Osman brothers until they parted ways in 2011, when Ahmad moved to Queens Boulevard, opening Souk El-Shater. Meanwhile, Mehdi remained on 43rd Avenue, opening up the restaurant Habibi, which closed after one year.
Ahmad and his two sons, Hussein and Mohammad, ran the restaurant where it has been for over a decade. Eventually, Hussein moved to Tempe, Arizona, opening a new Lebanese restaurant Pita Valley, where Ahmad and Mohammad are moving to continue the family business.
With their departure, Souk El-Shater is entering a new era, but Wehbe wants to dispel any fears around the restaurant’s quality or reputation, ensuring that their legendary shawarma, meat and spinach pies and baklava will be preserved.
“The entire kitchen staff is the same, we’re not taking anything off the menu – we’re actually adding new items and increasing the additional items we sell in the back of the store. One small change though, we’ll be changing the name to Souk Al-Shater”
Wehbe has decades of restaurant experience. In authentic New York fashion, Wehbe spent his teenage years and young adulthood working in delis across the city, preparing classic city sandwiches and learning the ropes before purchasing a Greek deli on Broadway in Astoria. The deli, Heliopolis, was eventually purchased by the owners of the well-known restaurant next door, Omonia.
When Wehbe heard that the Osmans were looking to sell the popular business, he leapt at the opportunity, remaining in conversation with them about the location for several years.
“Honestly, I’m even more excited now that I see how the food is made. I’m very finicky, I have a strong attention to detail with food and I’m extremely clean. Seeing the way everything is prepared, I’m just so excited to work with this staff and produce the best possible food.”
Wehbe is especially proud that the restaurant will soon begin offering one of its long-abandoned products: authentic, Lebanese style rotisserie chicken.
“You see this massive thing here,” he said, pointing to the eatery’s commercial rotisserie chicken oven. “It’s been out of commission for years. But we’re cleaning it up and getting it to work again. We’re really excited for that new option and what this means for customers.”
Souk Al-Shater is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., welcoming residents to savor the familiar flavors and embrace the exciting changes that lie ahead. The community can rest assured that this cherished landmark in Sunnyside will continue to be a source of culinary delight and cultural connection for years to come.