This Shipping-Container Restaurant Fed 3K Troops a Day in Afghanistan
- The Afghan Kabob restaurant first started out on a military base in Afghanistan.
- The owner told Insider they built the restaurant to give soldiers a taste of authentic Afghan food.
- After many logistical challenges, Helal Dur said he managed to feed up to 3,000 Navy SEALs a day.
Afghan Kabob is a restaurant laden with history.
While it is now located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, its original site was on 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 time on the military base, he noticed that soldiers didn’t get the opportunity to experience it.
“One thing that bothered me the most is I wanted my team to try authentic food. How can you go to Afghanistan for six months 12 months and not even try the food?” Dur said.
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 gained approval. “I quit my job […] flew to Dubai [to buy materials] and starting building my restaurant,” Dur said. He bought a 40-foot shipping container and built a full kitchen inside it.
But after transporting the container to Kandahar, Dur said he was met with logistical challenges. These mainly consisted of getting ingredients onto the base amid concerns that Taliban militants might seize deliveries.
There were only a few approved companies around the world that could provide for the military, he said. “They have $100 million, $200 million contracts with the military and here I am asking for $300 chicken or lettuce,” he added.
On the verge of giving up, Dur said he eventually landed a contract with a Dutch company. That’s when he shipped all his ingredients to the base and started cooking for his team.
The onsite restaurant was a huge success, according to Dur. On average, he and his employees were serving about 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers a day.
Dishes on the menu included kabobs and rice and gyros, which were family recipes Dur grew up eating.
By the time Dur sold his business in 2013, it had expanded to eight shipping containers and 200 employees working in the kitchen.
When his time on the mission was up, Dur moved his business to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where his wife is from. The couple, who met on the base in Afghanistan, set up Afghan Kabob together at the height of the pandemic in December 2020, after facing a few more logistical problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With no Afghan restaurants in the area, Dur thought it was a great opportunity to bring the cuisine to the people of Fayetteville, where so much of the large military population is based and familiar with Afghanistan.
Now, with an ever-present labor shortage in the US, Dur is being faced with even more obstacles. “I will set up 15 interviews and only two will show up,” he said. “We have to beg people to work.”
Dur said he has taken many items off the menu because he can’t keep with orders. He’s also reduced the prices of his dishes but they aren’t sustainable, given the rising costs of raw materials.
“Every time I go shopping I see other restaurant owners struggling like all of us,” Dur said.
“I hope that someone pays attention to our local small businesses because we are the backbone of our society and economy,” he added.