Roland Saleh credits delicious, self-made concoctions as part of the inspiration for the comfort food served at Two Fellas Grill.
“Like everyone, when we were younger, I’d go to Burger King and get a hamburger,” he says. “And what would I do with my hamburger? I’d ask for ranch and barbecue on the side, and then I’d put my fries in the burger and dip it in the sauce.”
Saleh, 38, and his best friend, Tim Torres, 39, are the co-owners and founders of Two Fellas Grill, at 907 Howard St., just off of Western Michigan University’s main campus. The restaurant specializes in grilled tortilla wraps.
Saleh and Torres, both area natives, graduated from Gull Lake High School and Michigan State, where Saleh got a degree in marketing and Torres in communications. Though they didn’t study for it, they say they don’t think starting the business was particularly difficult.
“What we do, and what we have tried to do from day one, is make things as simple as possible,” Torres says.
This simplicity can be found in the restaurant’s food creation, service, business model and even advertising, which is based almost entirely on word-of-mouth and social media. The same goes for the genesis of the restaurant as well: Both owners had grown tired of working for someone else (Torres worked for Best Buy as a regional manager, and Saleh did marketing for Jimmy John’s), and when Torres called Saleh and asked if he wanted to open a restaurant, the two decided to dive right in.
“It was really that simple,” Torres says, laughing. “It sounds kind of crazy to make such a life-changing decision like that, but it was really that simple.”
While the decision to open the restaurant was easy, the initial start-up was slightly more complicated.
“We didn’t exactly know what we were doing,” Saleh says. “We knew what we wanted to do, but as young entrepreneurs we didn’t exactly know what was best for it.”
The pair originally had a difficult time trying to decide whether to start their business at the restaurant’s current location or at a site on Stadium Drive, a choice that, in retrospect, Saleh says should have been obvious. After choosing and leasing the current location, the two had to figure out how to turn an “empty box” of a building into a restaurant while making sure it was up to city code for restaurants.
Finally, in the summer of 2013, the pair opened the restaurant, featuring a menu full of grilled tortilla wrap sandwiches stuffed with chicken and tater tots. Among them were the signature “Bronco” wrap, which also features bacon, mozzarella and barbecue sauce and “The First Item on the Menu,” which includes cheddar, mozzarella, sour cream and ranch dressing along with the chicken and tater tots. The menu also includes various steak, breakfast, pizza and vegetarian wraps and even some tater-less wraps as well.
And just how did the owners come up with this menu?
“Honestly, a lot of long, fun nights, involving Miller Lites, Bud Lights, random shots and who knows what else,” Saleh says.
The tater tots that make the restaurant such a cult hit were simply a product of putting various foods the two love into their menu — and it seems their customers enjoy those foods as much as they do.
The restaurant, designed for takeout and delivery, is a local favorite for those who are out late, keeping the restaurant full of customers well into the night. Its hours are 11 a.m.–3 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11 a.m.–4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
To keep up, orders for walk-ins and deliveries are prepared in separate parts of the building. Despite the owners’ anecdotes about the theft of a car-top carrier (the person who stole it was caught after putting up a picture of themselves with it on social media) and other mishaps by some of their more rambunctious partying patrons, this is the crowd Saleh and Torres say they want to serve.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Torres says. “They’re very eager to try our food and are very easy to please. If you serve good food that’s fast and you’re friendly about it, it’s a no-brainer.”
It’s not just college students and partiers who are attracted to Two Fellas’ feel-good menu. Saleh says the restaurant gets quite a bit of non-student business at lunchtime and during the periods of quiet at nearby WMU.
“We have also found that we have a lot of local residents and families that enjoy coming in,” Saleh says, “but they tend to come in primarily over summer break, winter break and other non-peak school times. Our goal is definitely to reach everybody in the Kalamazoo area.”
To achieve that goal, the two are planning to open a second location within the next six months in the Drake Plaza, on Drake Road just north of Michigan Avenue, across from Checkers. In addition, Saleh and Torres are testing the broader market viability of their restaurant concept through a new location they opened in January in West Lafayette, Indiana, near Purdue University.
“From day one, we never wanted just one. We wanted 500 of these things,” Torres says. “So we wanted to create something with processes going into it that are very simple and could easily be replicated.
“The easier we can make it now, the easier it will be for us to open more and for franchisees to open more.”