Berlin Street Grill, northeast Fresno’s newest Mediterranean restaurant, is unlike any you’ve tried.
Owner Kia Karbassi is new to restaurant ownership, but not business. He was raised working in the family business, northwest Fresno’s Persian Rug Collection by Karbassi.
He laughingly recalled making his first “sale” at age 8. Having displayed a knack for business at such an early age, it’s hardly a surprise he majored in entrepreneurship at Fresno State.
As part of the major, Karbassi had the opportunity to spend a semester studying in Sweden — where he was introduced to döner kebab, a popular street food that originated in Germany via Turkish immigrants.
“We were in school all day and it’s cold there,” he explained. After class, he and his friends would stop at food trucks and order döner kebab, “which has become really a German product, even though it’s from immigrants.”
It’s also a product that is virtually unknown in the Fresno market. In June, he said, he and a friend were reminiscing about how much they had enjoyed döner kebab while in Sweden. He began to consider the possibility of opening a döner restaurant, knowing the concept was unique enough to differentiate from traditional Mediterranean restaurants.
In July, an acquaintance who owned the shopping center at Herndon and Cedar avenues mentioned a shuttered restaurant had left a vacancy. Karbassi didn’t waste time. He jumped at the opportunity.
He consulted with friends and business advisors, received recipes from a German friend who had worked in a döner restaurant and worked throughout late summer and early fall to prepare for Berlin Street Grill’s late November opening.
Similar to the Arabian shawarma or Greek gyro, döner meat is roasted on a vertical grill and shaved into thin slices before being served in a sandwich, wrap or salad. But döner has a distinctly German flavor profile.
“When we say Mediterranean food,” Karbassi explained, “it’ll have the German spices; it’s Mediterranean food but in a totally different style.”
So, what can you expect from Berlin Street Grill? The menu is simple, and saves hungry diners from becoming overwhelmed by too many options.
Customers can choose between beef or chicken (or both, for people who can’t decide), which is marinated and roasted on a vertical grill, then placed in a sandwich, wrap or salad.
All sandwiches come with lettuce, tomato, onion, fresh red cabbage and cucumber, and can be topped with the house garlic or spicy tzatziki sauces.
Sides include potato salad, sweet potato fries, German fries or a bag of chips. Chicken noodle soup, which is made fresh daily, is also available.
Keeping things simple is part of Karbassi’s plan. It allows him to maintain control over the quality of his products.
“The potato salad we make every morning; the meat is marinated; the bread is from a local bakery,” he said. “Everything is fresh. There’s lots of produce in our menu. The meat is lean. We don’t use processed meat at all.”
He compares his operation to another restaurant well-known for its simple yet satisfying menu: “The In-N-Out [Burger] menu is so basic, but really good. You don’t really hear anything bad about them, and that’s what we want to do: make it good every time.”