How the owner of an Afghan restaurant fed up to 3,000 Navy SEALs a day on a military base using a shipping container as a kitchen
- The Afghan Kabob restaurant started out on a military base in Afghanistan.
- The owner told Insider they built the restaurant to give the soldiers a taste of authentic Afghan cuisine.
- After many logistical challenges, Helal Dur said he has managed to feed up to 3,000 Navy SEALs per day.
Afghan Kabob is a restaurant steeped in history.
Although it is now located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, its original site was at a military base in southern Afghanistan.
The restaurant, originally named Kabob House, was founded by Helal Dur in 2008 when he was deployed to Kandahar as a civilian contractor. He told Insider he was assigned to one of the most elite teams, the US Navy SEALs.
Born and raised in Kabul, Dur understood authentic Afghan cuisine. But during his stay at the military base, he noticed that the soldiers had not had the opportunity to experience it.
“One thing that bothered me the most was that I wanted my team to try authentic food. How can you go to Afghanistan for six months and 12 months without even tasting the food? Said Dur.
After several conversations with people on the base, Dur said he was denied the opportunity to open a restaurant more than 100 times.
But his persuasion paid off and he finally got approval. “I am resigning from my job […] flew to Dubai [to buy materials] and start building my restaurant, ”Dur said. He bought a 40ft sea container and built a full galley in it.
But after transporting the container to Kandahar, Dur said he encountered logistical challenges. These mainly consisted of delivering ingredients to the base, fearing that Taliban militants would seize the deliveries.
There were only a few approved companies in the world that could supply the military, he said. “They have contracts of $ 100 million, $ 200 million with the military and here I am asking for $ 300 of chicken or lettuce,” he added.
On the verge of giving up, Dur said he eventually landed a contract with a Dutch company. It was then that he shipped all of his ingredients to the base and started cooking for his team.
The on-site restaurant has been a huge success, according to Dur. On average, he and his employees served about 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers per day.
Dishes on the menu included kebabs, rice, and gyros, which were family recipes that Dur grew up eating.
By the time Dur sold his business in 2013, it had grown to eight shipping containers and 200 kitchen staff.
At the end of his assignment, Dur moved his business to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where his wife is from. The couple, who met at the base in Afghanistan, set up Afghan Kabob together at the height of the pandemic in December 2020, after facing some additional logistical challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With no Afghan restaurants in the area, Dur thought this was a great opportunity to bring the cuisine to the people of Fayetteville, where much of the large military population is based and is familiar with Afghanistan.
Now, with an ever-present labor shortage in the United States, Dur faces even more hurdles. “I will be holding 15 interviews and only two will show up,” he said. “We have to beg people to work.
Dur said he removed many items from the menu because he couldn’t keep up with orders. He also reduced the prices of his dishes but they are not sustainable, given the rising costs of raw materials.
His struggle, however, is shared by many other business owners working in industries ranging from hospitality to transportation.
“Every time I shop I see other struggling restaurateurs like the rest of us,” Dur said.
“I hope someone is paying attention to our local small businesses because we are the backbone of our society and our economy,” he added.