Hitham Hiyajneh’s Restaurant Empire 


Sarah Ocampo

Wall of newly established Yallah Taco that Hitham’s family helped work on. His daughter painted this wall and is one of the many familial and local touches in the building.

Sarah Ocampo, Staff Writer

Hitham Hiyajneh is a proud member of our college town. A Middle Eastern Entrepreneur who has built an empire of famous hotspots like Yallah Taco, Pita Cabana, Underground, and others spread around State College. Where there is food, culture, and community, leader Hitham Hiyajneh comes to mind.

Hiyajneh first officially introduced Yallah Taco to State College in 2018.  The convenient and on-the-go business was first built on Calder Way. “That’s the small hole-in-the-wall kinda thing,” Hiyajneh stated.

The business took it to the next step when they signed the lease for the newly-vacant storefront on College Ave in Jul. 2020 amidst the pandemic. When the building became available, Hiyajneh took a risk to reinvent Yallah Taco. “Everyone was closing and I was opening a new restaurant. It’s kinda like a risk but Covid wasn’t going to be here forever,” Hiyajneh said.

The process wasn’t easy. It was a long fight as many people were already competing for the spot at the time. But other community members stood behind Hiyajneh and advocated for a business owner who already had roots in the town. 

Hiyajneh immigrated to the US from Jordan in 1989. He was 20 years old with nothing but $400 dollars in his wallet and his dream of a better life. He settled in New York for a bit but later moved to Pittsburgh and worked in a bakery with a taste from home called “Pita Land.”

Immigrating across the world is difficult. Like any other immigrant’s, Hiyajneh’s experience was not easy. He stated that “the first six years were hard.”

Hiyajneh first worked waitressing and bartending when he moved from Pittsburgh to San Fransico and got his papers renewed.

From then he moved back to Pennsylvania and began working in marketing and sales. In 2010, his mother and brothers moved from Jordan to join him in the states. 

With the reunion of his family, Pita Cabana, a Lebanese restaurant, was born. 

Pita Cabana, on Calder Way, is the most well-known Middle Eastern restaurant in State College. The restaurant’s cuisine includes Middle Eastern foods like grilled lamb pita, ground beef kabob, chicken gyro pita, and more.

Hitham Hiyajneh was able to create such a successful business from the love has for his job and by knowing what he’s doing. 

Hiyajneh runs such a successful business by establishing respect with his employees. “I’ve been lucky with very good people. That’s actually our business. Our people come first,” Hiyajneh stated.  

The large majority of Hiyajneh’s employees are immigrants as well. They are hardworking people who need jobs to live in the US and to receive money to send to their families back home. That’s the case for a lot of immigrants, like my own family, and no exception for Hiyajneh’s workers. 

Hiyajneh used to have trouble finding employees, but according to him more and more people have begun applying to his companies.

A Pita Cabana worker, Daisy, and her family are immigrants from Guatemala who work for Hiyajneh. Guatemala is currently facing political and social instability. Working with Hiyajneh provided Daisy and her family jobs, safety, and extended family in the US. Once her children graduated, they came back to work with him Hiyajneh. One even started up their own business. 

“It’s a family-oriented thing. That’s the treat with working with these people. It’s really fun. Like a family,” said Hiyajneh. 

Hiyajneh works with his employees and expands his business by building up his employees. In return, he gains their trust, respect, and the opportunity to build up his business. 

“I start with one gentleman, and he brought his sister, his sister then brought her cousin. They’re all family. I’m not kidding,” Hiyajneh stated. “They’re family. That’s the whole thing. For example, I have a gentleman who just comes and is like, ‘Hey, can I borrow a thousand dollars?’ This employee wanted to send over money back home for Christmas for their family to spend on gifts for each other. Like okay. No problem, here’s a thousand bucks,” he added. 

Hiyajneh’s employees are family to him. At home, he has 3 children: a 24-year-old girl, a 19-year-old son, and a 2-year-old son. All of whom went to the State High. His mother and four out of his twelve siblings (he’s the oldest) are here in the US as well. All of them help with his business from time to time.

People from all cultures stop by his restaurants to taste his food. “We see everybody,” Hiyajneh states. A key part of his restaurants is how they’re all serving Halal food which draws in the local Muslim community. People from Malaysia, Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and all over the Middle East come according to Hiyajneh .

Hiyajneh is friends with other local business owners. The owners of Big Bowl, a Chinese restaurant downtown, are close with Hithnam as well, “That’s one of my favorite Chinese places. Actually, they’re my friends and I buy from them. They’re really good people.” 

“I like all of them [different types of food]. That’s why I always open up different places,” Hiyajneh stated to be the reason he loves to be in the restaurant industry. Through his businesses, he’s able to bring himself and the community closer together, creating a more culturally diverse State College.

So what’s in the future for Hiyajneh? Nothing is certain, but it certainly looks bright. 

Currently, Hiyajneh is in the process of starting up two businesses. 

One company is “Aqua Fresh”, a company that sells energy drinks and fruit juice. Hiyajneh is a huge fan of their mango and pineapple flavors. In the future, he hopes to expand the flavors to reflect a more diverse and tropical selection. 

Another company that’s making headways is “Naked Granola”, which owns thousands of stores in New York.

Hitham Hiyajneh is a successful, dedicated, and well-respected community member. Before his work in State College, there were only four Halal restaurants in the town. There are now 11. But, what’s to say that there won’t be more? 

“Not every day is the same day. Every day is a challenging day. Sometimes it becomes a routine which is why I’m looking for new ideas. For example, I like Hawaiian food. To do Hawaiian food. That’s another thing. Not here. But in another location, we’ll see,” Hiyajneh stated.

Many people in State College are ecstatic to see such a success like Hitham Hiyajneh thrive in this town and in the US. 

“Sometimes I want to quit the restaurant business. Don’t get me wrong. But now, when the reviews are like ‘Omg I love this food! Thank you for opening!’ Then you forget all the crap you went through. In life, that’s how it is. Some good days and bad days,” Hiyajneh said.