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Kebabish Bites moves to new location, owner preserves family legacy through halal, Pakistani-style dishes

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Kebabish Bites owner Waseem Ahmed smiling in front of the restaurant's welcome sign March 30.

A Pakistani immigrant brought a piece of home to Norman with a mix of spices, flavors and colorful dishes to expand halal options throughout the city and share his culture with food. 

Waseem Ahmed bought Kebabish Bites in November 2019 from its previous owners who opened the business four months earlier. The restaurant began operations in early 2020 after Ahmed changed the entire menu to reflect the recipes of his mother, Shamim Akhtar. 

Though Ahmed was born in Pakistan, he grew up in Oman because of his father’s job as an engineer for Oman’s Ministry of Defense. As the oldest of six, Ahmed’s mother often called him to the kitchen to teach him how to cook. 

Now, Ahmed spends each day cooking Akhtar’s recipes in Kebabish Bites and serving them to Norman residents. Ahmed’s father died in 2013, and Akhtar moved to Oklahoma from Pakistan in 2014 to live with her son. The 64-year-old Akhtar can sometimes be seen teaching Ahmed in the kitchen or filling samosas.

Ahmed said his mother often hovers over him while he cooks to ensure he’s preparing her recipes perfectly. 

Ahmed moved to Edmond in 2002 to attend the University of Central Oklahoma before moving to Norman in 2019. He reflected on the difficulties of finding halal and Pakistani-style food in college, which inspired him to open his restaurant and share his culture with Norman. 

Even at OU, students like Sarah Altamimi, the OU Shia Student Association president and a psychology junior, described facing OU’s limited halal options each day. 

“There are international students who came from Arab countries (or) Middle Eastern countries (who) can't find access to halal meat on campus,” Altamimi said. “They basically have deprived themselves of eating meat, or they have to go out of the way to another place to get that source of halal meat.”

OU offers halal food options at Athens Café, Sooner Smokehouse and the grill station at the residential colleges, OU Housing and Food Services Director of Marketing and Communications Amy Buchanan wrote. Vegan and vegetarian options also are available at both dining halls. Halal meat options are not available in restaurants in the Oklahoma Memorial Union.

The typical challenges of owning a business were soon exacerbated in 2020 when COVID-19 swept through the U.S., forcing Ahmed to alter typical business operations by closing the dining room and adapting to the pandemic. 

Ahmed described running Kebabish Bites during the height of the pandemic as “painful,” reflecting on the employees who were too scared to come in, financial impacts and the increased prices of ingredients.

“We were there like 14 hours a day because there was no help,” Ahmed said. “It was tough, but we never gave up. God has plans for everything.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, the price of food increased by 7.9 percent in the last year. Even years into the pandemic, Ahmed said the price of food continues to be one of the hardest parts of owning his business. He said he has to adjust and increase his menu prices to keep the restaurant open — something his customers may not understand.

Now, Ahmed hopes to reintroduce Kebabish Bites to the Norman community through its new location at 283 34th Ave SW. After looking into about 13 locations across Norman, Ahmed found Kebabish Bites’ new home among surrounding restaurants like Gaberino’s Homestyle Italian and Charleston’s. The new location features additional seating, an updated interior and two fish tanks containing clownfish, angelfish, blue hippo tang and many others. 

The move was assisted by a former customer and current public relations consultant Jake Hewett. Kebabish Bites’ chicken tikka masala sparked a friendship between Hewett, Ahmed and Ahmed’s brother Hamza Naseem and readily assisted their transition into the restaurant’s new location. 

Ahmed opened the restaurant to various media outlets on April 4 to try different menu items. Starting with appetizers, Ahmed served chana masala, a chickpea-based dish with tomatoes, spices, and onions, dates sliced and filled with cream cheese and veggie pakoray, a combination of deep-fried potatoes and onions. The appetizers were accompanied by a tamarind sauce and a mint chutney sauce. 

For the main courses, Ahmed served seekh kebab, shrimp biryani, a seasoned rice dish with shrimp, herbs and spices, butter chicken curry and chicken tikka masala curry.

The evening concluded with a Kebabish Bites original — a dessert called pineapple halwa. 

During the tasting, a middle-aged couple walked through the doors as they assumed the restaurant was open, but after finding out it was closed for the event, they offered kind words through a joke to Ahmed and his food. 

“Did you make them sign the waiver?” the customer asked Ahmed. 

When Ahmed expressed confusion, the customer answered, “The one that says, ‘You will be addicted to this food.’” 

The evening of tasting represented the homemade, cook-to-order style of food Ahmed serves his customers. He said he keeps multiple plastic spoons near him when he cooks to try the food he serves and ensure customers are receiving exactly what they order.

Ahmed tries to locally source his ingredients, but the limited number of halal suppliers in the area forces him to drive to Dallas at least once a week. Though it’d be easier and cheaper to serve non-halal food, he said the cleanliness and lack of halal options in Norman prevents him from making the switch. 

Ahmed said he hopes to serve more students at Kebabish Bites through the restaurant's new location.

“Once people know they can depend on us for fresh food and halal food, I think we will get that traffic,” Ahmed said. “That was the initial plan.”

Ahmed said his favorite part of owning Kebabish Bites is meeting new people every day. The sign in the front of the restaurant reads, “Welcome to Kebabish Bites” in big letters surrounded by a smaller font reading the same in 54 different languages. 

“We open the door for everybody,” Ahmed said. “I was raised this way.” 

Silas Bales contributed to this report.

News editor

Alexia Aston is a journalism and political science sophomore and news editor at The Daily. She started at The Daily in the fall of 2020 as a news reporter and served as a senior news reporter. She is originally from Clinton, Oklahoma.

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