Eddie Hantas Chef/Owner Hummus Xpress www.hummusxpress.com
Since January, Eddie Hantas has been serving healthy, fresh Mediterranean food in a fast-casual atmosphere at Hummus Xpress in Tempe. The Subway- (or if you prefer, Chipotle-) style restaurant is his second venture, opened about year after he shuttered his first place, a pizza and hookah joint called Eddie's Bistro. This week, we're chatting with the former professional basketball player -- more on that later -- about the long road that brought him to Arizona. And don't forget to come back tomorrow for the second part of our interview.
We'll start with the fact that Hantas used to be a professional basketball player in Lebanon, where he grew up. At 17, he played on the country's national team, traveling to Malaysia, Iran, and Syria to play other teams. If you ask, he might try to play it down, but if press him for information, he'll admit he won an award for being one of the country's two top players.
It was the sport, not the food, that brought him to the states -- more specifically to Las Vegas, where he was going to attend community college to try to play Division I or II basketball. But he was broke, and when he couldn't find work, he wasn't able to start classes. Hantas then landed in Michigan, where his aunt lived.
He got a job working at a Greek restaurant, his first experience working in a kitchen, and continued to try to pursue his dreams of playing professional sports.
"In Michigan, there are a lot of Middle Eastern people and they do hummus with pita and breakfast. It's weird," Hantas says.
He almost made a community college team in Michigan but ultimately was kept from playing because of his experience on the national team. It was a final blow to his dreams and, as he puts it, "After that, life took over."
Hantas says this was one of the darker periods in his life, when he had little motivation and even less direction. Eventually a friend would persuade him to move to sunny Arizona, where he began working at Gus' Pizza (you know, the 24-hour spot just off ASU's Tempe campus).
"That's when I realized I was good with people," Hantas says. "I used to be really shy."
(Which is quite hard to believe now, by the way.)
Working the counter at the pizza joint helped him come out of his shell, and before long he was managing -- basically, running -- the place when the owner wasn't around. It didn't take long for him to realize he could probably just set off on his own, and so, with zero business experience, Hantas began his career as a restaurateur.
One song to describe your personality: "Cheb mami [bekatani]"
If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow where would you go and why?: To Japan to eat real ramen noodles.
Your personal mantra: Worry is a waste of the imagination.
One thing most people don't know about you: I am shy.
Your current obsession and why: Yelp, to work on my writing.
The last thing you watched: Le concert (film)
The biggest challenge you've faced in your career and how you overcame it: It's still yet to come.
If you could dine with any five people who would they be and where would you eat: Barack Obama, George Bush, Denzel Washington, Dan Barber, and Ben Stiller at Maison Bras in France.
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What was your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen so far: I made falafel using baking soda instead of baking powder. I ended up destroying the falafel in front of a lovely couple that came from Sun City to try them. Ouch . . . Bad experience.
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