Zay it ain’t so! Restaurateur closing Zaytoons in Carroll Gardens this month

Zay it ain’t so! Restaurateur closing Zaytoons in Carroll Gardens this month
Photo by Colin Mixson

Order up while you can!

A Carroll Gardens restaurateur is shuttering his beloved Middle-Eastern eatery on Smith Street after 20 years in the neighborhood.

The owner of Zaytoons will serve his last meal at the establishment between Sackett and Degraw streets on Nov. 20, before he closes its kitchen for good in an attempt to wind down after decades feeding hungry locals, he said.

“I’m just trying to simplify my life,” said Faried Assad. “It really came down to, I got tired.”

But Assad isn’t quitting the local culinary game entirely — he will still be whipping up delicacies at Zaytoons Vanderbilt Avenue outpost in Prospect Heights, which he said is larger and more profitable than the Carroll Gardens flagship due to its outdoor garden, and proximity to ice cream.

“If you’re living the same distance between Carroll Gardens and Prospect Heights, they go to Prospect, because they can find seating, there’s a garden, and Ample Hills Creamery is across the street,” he said.

And the entrepreneur, who owns the Smith Street building his restaurant currently occupies, is keeping the spot in the restaurant business by leasing it out to the owners of burger joint Nature’s Grill.

Assad claimed he could have raked in gobs of cash by renting the space to a bar or an Italian restaurant instead, but the area is already lousy with those establishments, so he chose to go with the burger makers, whom he suspects will start serving their self-proclaimed “healthy” grub as soon as February.

“I love the neighborhood, and I wanted something the neighborhood could use,” he said.

Assad, a Brooklyn born son of immigrant parents and a life-long Carroll Gardens resident, broke into the restaurant business in 1998 by opening the Smith Street Zaytoons in the ground floor of the building he said his old man bought back in the ‘80s. Business boomed from the start, he said, and diners from across the borough trekked to the dining room for a taste of his chicken shawarma or pita-crust pizza pies.

But Brooklyn’s palate got a little too hip for its own good over the years, and these days there’s a halfway-decent Middle Eastern spot in almost every neighborhood, eliminating the need to travel to Carroll Gardens for a good kabob, Assad said.

“Things did change,” he said. “People from Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick were like, why come here, there’s one in every neighborhood.”

But competition wasn’t the only factor that led Assad to close up shop. Earlier this year, the entrepreneur coughed up $10,000 to settle a lawsuit filed against his business under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that payment, coupled with rising costs of labor and other financial penalties he received from the state’s Department of Labor, made its continued operation infeasible, he said.

“It just became harder to do business,” he said. “Things are changing, and everything is more expensive.”

Still, the looming closure comes as sad news to current Carroll Garden residents, many of whom don’t remember a time before Zaytoons, which one local said was among the first places she visited after moving to the area.

“This is one of the first places I discovered in the neighborhood,” said Alex Kalita. “I’m really going to miss it.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.