In 2018, Iman Haggag and her sister Ayat El-Attal opened the first Egyptian vegan restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Today, after meticulous work, the sisters made Egyptian food a household name in the southwestern tourist hub in the United States.
“I came to the United States when I was 23 years-old. Now, I am 39 and, actually, my study has nothing to do with the culinary field, neither did my younger sister’s,” Iman Haggag, who has a bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Commerce at Ain Shams University in Egypt, tells Ahram Online.
Both Haggag and her sister El-Attal stress that they have not worked before either in Egypt or in the US.
“POTs is our first full-time job. We were learning as we go, literally,” says Haggag.
The name POTs means in Arabic Qidrat Al-ful (a huge pot with a round shape from the bottom and a narrow neck for cooking beans). It symbolises the traditional look of local Egyptian street food.
Co-owners of POTs, Haggag and El-Attal did not have any previous knowledge on how restaurant business goes in Las Vegas or the US.
“It was awesome and such a great honour to achieve this. The United States’ government has high standards in everything concerned with tourists,” she adds.
Despite all of this, they succeeded in managing their restaurant and became one of the best vegan restaurants in Las Vegas.
In less than a year, POTs earned the 67th place on the list of Yelp’s top 100 places to eat in the US in 2019.
It was also nominated as the best vegan restaurant in the Las Vegas Review-Journal for the year 2019.
In the 2019 Las Vegas awards in the vegan food category, the koshari dish won ‘the best healthy Carb Load prize, awarded by Las Vegas Weekly magazine. It also ranked number five on Yelp’s list for the top 50 places to eat in Las Vegas for the year 2020.
Haggag explained that Yelp is a customer platform. “Most of the people who visit our restaurant genuinely wrote a review about their own experience. It is our way with world mass marketing,” she adds.
POTs’ opening ceremony was in February 2018. Haggag described her restaurant as one that has a ‘café look’— a very small establishment with a capacity for 25 people.
She stresses that street food in Egypt is mainly vegan by nature. “In Egypt, we don’t call it vegan. It is all plant-based vegan food like Koshari, foul mudammas (Egyptian fava beans).
“Any foreigner or tourist paying a visit to Egypt is familiar with the Egyptian food recipes,” She explains.
The whole restaurant staff is made up of women. Most of them are from Arab countries like Morocco, Jordan, and Iraq.
“We provide our staff a safe place to work in. They understand Egyptian cuisine and the flavours. It is a perfect match,” she said.
POTs specialises in serving only Egyptian vegetarian food. Vegan food does not include dairy products like eggs, milk, and butter.
The restaurant’s menu items consist of koshari, foul mudammas, taemeya (Egyptian Falafel), fried potatoes with Egyptian duqqa (blend from toasted seeds and spices), cauliflower, lentil soup, tahini, baba ghanoush, hummus, etc.
“In any recipe, we twist and add a unique Egyptian flavour to it,” Haggag adds
“We serve drinks like coffee, peppermint tea, green tea with marmaria, lemon with mint juice, tahini shake, and hibiscus lemon juice.”
In POTs’ kitchen, Haggag says that the chefs make some innovations in the recipes but at the same time keep the distinctive aroma and flavours of Egyptian food.
“Our chefs used Egyptian items such as tahini and halawa in making desserts like the brownies. They also put dates as a new item to the tahini shake and use charcoal infused oil in foul mudammas dish.”
“Our most famous dish in our menu is koshari topped with garbanzo beans and takelaya,” she says with a smile.
“It became very popular and our most loved by our customers. Egyptian Falafel is also our best seller dish.”
“During quarantine, we shut our doors and started to focus on food delivery platforms, and POTs served free meals for anyone who knocked on the door and felt hungry during that time,” she says.
The protective and safety measures were very high in general, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, they reached a climax.
“We added ventilators to keep air fresh. We made it accessible for our customers to wash their hands before and after the meal, and we provided customers with sanitizers to use as they please, not to mention people took their own personal precautions,” Haggag concludes.