It’s easy to miss. In fact, if you aren’t looking for it—maybe even if you are—you could walk right past it and not even realize. It’s not on what passes in downtown Parkersburg for restaurant row, so you can pass within half a block of it and not even know it exists. If you do step off the beaten path and manage to find yourself around the corner on 7th Street, you could still miss one of the real treasures of the Mid-Ohio Valley. It’s tiny and unassuming, not even twenty feet wide. Some might even say it looks like a hole in the wall. But the instant you walk in Gyro King, the aroma tells you this is a special place. And within a few minutes of meeting the owner and sole proprietor, Moustapha Moussari, you have a new friend.
Moussari, originally from northern Africa, has been trained and worked as a chef literally all over the world, including Morocco, Greece, France, Brazil, and Germany. Here in the States, he’s worked in New York, California, Florida, and Colorado. One might ask how someone with such an extensive and impressive resumé as a chef could wind up running a tiny little shop with fourteen seats and a kitchen barely big enough to turn around without hitting something in a town that has to feel about a million miles from Paris or NYC. The answer is, according to Moussari, he got here completely by accident. But now that he’s here, he has no interest in leaving.
He had been working as a chef in Florida and was considering a move to Oregon where he envisioned having his own restaurant on the water. In the midst of all this, some might say fate stepped in. Moussari visited a friend in Ohio who had a business proposition for him. His friend wondered if he may not like to own a restaurant in a city he’d never heard of—Marietta. “I said I would stay for a week. If I liked it, I would sign a lease.”
You work from your heart to please people. That’s my joy, to please people.
Five days in, it was obvious to him that there was just not the foot traffic in the location to support a restaurant, so he was ready to move on, when his friend asked if he would consider looking at one more location, this one in West Virginia. He wasn’t interested initially, but when his friend explained that West Virginia was not five hours away, like he thought, but instead just five minutes away across the river, he agreed to consider it. He’s glad he did. And so is every single person who has eaten Moussari’s delectable food.
The cuisine is made of predominantly American main ingredients, like chicken and beef, but what makes it unique are his techniques, mostly Greek, and spice palate which comes from Morocco. He does offer lamb, which is quite popular in Greece, but he buys most of his ingredients locally. He would like to offer a wider variety but his facilities limit him. And he’s also acutely aware of working to his audience.
“People here have good taste,” he said, “but they are more meat-and-potatoes.” So, he sticks to ingredients he knows locals are comfortable with and applies his techniques to astounding results. “You work from your heart to please people. That’s my joy, to please people.”
He could be making more money elsewhere. He could even be making more money here if that were his priority. Some local doctors fell in love with his food, so much so that he was getting up to 250 orders a day from Camden Clark. “I told them I’m by myself. I told them I could not do that. I like the people who walk in. The hospital has their own kitchen and can hire someone to cook for them. Don’t take my food from me.”
He hates the idea that he would have to turn away people who walk in because he was out of food from filling so many orders. For him, it’s all about the personal interactions. And he has found through those connections that he loves the people here. He worries about how little the state has to offer and he’s struggling mightily to find employees, but he simply loves the people he meets here in Parkersburg.
“If somebody says something about West Virginia people, or people from this area, Parkersburg, there’s something wrong with those people.” All of his interactions with businesses, the police, the fire department, and other members of local government have been completely positive.
He would love to expand to two or three locations, but he finds he can’t hire enough employees to take time off from his one shop. He finds the ethic in small-town America is a little different from that in bigger cities, where people will work every hour they can get. He’s worked so hard in the year-and-a-half since he opened, he started showing signs of a stroke. Luckily his upstairs neighbor, a doctor, noticed and forced him to shut down and go to the hospital, where he stayed for five days. He plans to take a couple weeks off soon—doctor’s orders—but is concerned that he will have to close down during that time unless he can find someone to step into his shoes temporarily. Anyone who has ever eaten there will gladly encourage him to take some time for himself, because we know if we lose the Gyro King, we would be much poorer for it.