15 January 2024

Taste of big things to come: patrons flock to Illawarra's first El Jannah store for Lebanese-style chicken

| Kellie O'Brien
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staff at fried chicken store

El Jannah Albion Park restaurant manager Kyle Hardy and national training manager Kendra Foster inside the store. Photos: Kellie O’Brien.

El Jannah, the renowned Lebanese-style charcoal chicken restaurant, has made a stellar entrance into the Illawarra, with its Albion Park Rail store’s soft launch prompting the need to expand its workforce before its official opening.

The restaurant, set to be the first of many to open in the Illawarra over the coming year, was inundated with drive-through, dine-in and takeaway diners during its pre-launch phase.

While the official launch wasn’t until 13 January, restaurant manager Kyle Hardy said the significant patronage during its week-long soft launch, led by strong attention on social media, had exceeded expectations.

“It’s been like the grand opening happened last Thursday,” Kyle said a day before the official launch.

He said the demand necessitated a rapid increase in staff numbers during the week.

“We’re hitting around 70 staff, but I’m looking at more,” he said.

“In the last week, I hired about 10-12 to boost our numbers because it was getting pretty full-on.”

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Originating in 1988 as a humble family takeaway shop in Granville, Sydney, by Lebanese immigrants, the business gained a cult following in western Sydney due to its marinated and charcoal-grilled chicken, complemented by garlic sauce and flatbread.

El Jannah, which translates to “paradise” in Arabic, uses unique chicken marinade and garlic sauce recipes that remain closely guarded secrets.

“The marinade for our chicken is top-secret,” Kyle said.

“Only the people in the factory in Sydney know how it’s produced and the same with the garlic sauce – there’s no ingredient lists.”

staff at charcoal chicken store

Demand for El Jannah’s Lebanese-style charcoal chicken has meant restaurant manager Kyle Hardy has had to increase staff numbers.

Kyle said while the restaurant had attracted positive feedback from all manner of Illawarra chicken-loving customers, it was the food’s culture that was also important.

“I’ve had some customers reflect to me that it brings them back to Lebanon,” he said.

“So they actually feel more at home here, which is cool.”

El Jannah’s success story extends beyond Albion Park Rail, with the chain now boasting 25 restaurants throughout New South Wales, Canberra and Melbourne.

And its expansion continues.

“Our company, Vantage Food Group, is the franchisee for the store, and we’re contracted to build multiple stores south of Sydney – connecting Sydney to Victoria,” Kyle said.

“There will be a couple of other stores opening up in the Illawarra in the next year.”

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The next El Jannah store is slated to open in Tahmoor soon, which will be the third for the group.

Kyle, who has worked in fast-food restaurants throughout the Illawarra before joining El Jannah, said he believed people would keep coming back because it was “delicious and a fun, family-friendly place where you can bring your friends and family and enjoy a meal together because it’s about sharing food”.

The menu offers charcoal chicken boxes, fried chicken pieces, crispy-chicken burgers, tawouk rolls, Lebanese tabouli and fattoush salad.

Operating daily from 10 am to 11 pm, the Albion Park store, strategically located on the road into Shellharbour Airport, offers a drive-through, dine-in experience, delivery service and pick-up option.

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