By Mary Catherine Gaston
Though Wael Zahrouni's life began halfway around the globe in one of the world's largest and fastest growing cities, he fits right in in the small Georgia town he's chosen to make his home. As owner and chef at Gyro City Mediterranean Grill in downtown Americus, Wael (pronounced Y-L) plays a critical role in the local economy and adds a certain spice--literally and figuratively--to the local culture.
Rural roots: Though he’s lived and worked in the small, southwest Georgia town of Americus since he was 18–more than a decade now—Wael Zahrouni is far from a small town boy at heart, having grown up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a city of 3.3 million. “My culture has a deep connection with food. Dubai let me experience many different types of cuisine and made me explore different culinary options. When I was growing up my mother always made fresh meals and traditional recipes and intrigued me to learn our traditional ways of cooking.” Gyro City Mediterranean Grill, his restaurant in the heart of bustling downtown Americus, quickly became a local favorite after opening in the fall of 2017.
What makes him a hero? His desire to contribute to the community he’s chosen to call home. “I was inspired to open my restaurant because I wanted to be able to give to the community something I have previously experienced and came to love, which is Mediterranean cuisine. I wanted to inspire my community to accept different types of cuisines and realize that there are many more food options that they can enjoy, and they have. I also wanted to inspire the community by opening a new type of restaurant and by giving positive encouragement to try something new, and also give hope to future business owners that new ideas are good.”
A cause that’s close to his heart: “My main passion in life is cooking and creating recipes. I also enjoy playing soccer, doing DIY projects, reading and staying current with world events and cars. I am a very religious person, so God is number one in my life, and my family is right behind.”
Something he wants every rural Georgian to realize: That diversity is key. "All Georgians have access to success and trying new things - not only food, but experiencing different cultures. I have realized that people can be stuck in their ways, and it would be nice for people to venture out a little more."
Where he sees hope for rural communities: Wael hopes to see other unique, small businesses like his own succeed in small towns and rural communities. “The most promising trend for the future of rural Georgia would be small businesses creating more jobs for their communities. Small businesses should support each other, and if I have inspired other restaurants to improve or try new ideas, I feel as if I have inspired my community.”