In the restaurant industry, it’s not everyday you run into someone who is talented and driven, but also humble, thankful, and deeply honest. Oh, and someone who makes her own pickles. Austin, meet Nanaz Ahmadi. She runs a new food trailer, Wholly Kabob, and her story is a worthy one indeed.
The once personal chef was born in Iran and lived in Germany and San Diego before moving to Austin. She has culled many influences from her ports of call, but her cooking is decidedly Middle Eastern, showcasing many techniques learned from her grandmother. In recent years, she has had nearly a dozen close family members affected by cancer which prompted a decision to study nutrition, specifically as it relates to the disease. She looks for ways to preserve nutrients that most cooking processes eliminate. Once she set her mind on sharing her food with a larger audience, it became a pretty simple matter of “guts and funds,” she told me on a recent evening. I stopped by her Rainey Street location behind The White House bar, where she welcomed me into her tidy trailer. She fired up her grill, threw on a beef kabob, and shared the whole story. The guts came from her family and friends; the funds from Kickstarter.
“I don’t have a million friends,” she explained. Kickstarter seemed a logical way to raise the $15,000 she needed to fund her trailer business. Using social media in conjunction with the 40-day online fundraising event, Ahmadi posted gorgeous photos of her food almost daily and frequently updated followers about how much money she had raised. It was simple and effective. She raised $15,250 with just hours to spare. (If you don’t meet your goal on Kickstarter in the allotted time, you get nothing.) “When I realized we had done it, I fell on the floor. Literally!” Fast forward six short weeks and Ahmadi finds herself with a steady following and some big plans in the near future.
My beef bowl was, by the way, delicious. The rice was fluffy and fragrant; the amazingly tender beef topped with a light yogurt sauce. Her hummus was smooth; her handmade pickles crunchy and tart. I delighted in every bite and felt great for hours afterwards. Nanaz shops at all the local markets and farms for her ingredients, especially Richardson Farms. Once a year she travels to Tehran for spices. She rides a donkey up the side of a mountain to find an “old toothless woman who has the best tumeric in the world. I come home with my bags stuffed with tumeric and saffron.” She lets me have a whiff of her small, precious jar of tumeric. “They have wi-fi on top of the mountain,” she laughs. “But you have to take the donkey to get there.”
On February 1st, Wholly Kabob will be moving off Rainey Street, which is not heavily trafficked during the day. The busy food court at the corner of E. Sixth and Waller will be her new home, where she can accommodate the many requests for lunchtime hours. “And then, maybe after a while, I can get some help here,” she says with a smile, “and see my kids! They have come here to see me now.”
Her menu is small, affordable, approachable, and healthy. Once Wholly Kabob has found the right home, more and more of Austin should find their way to what is really delicious food. “Kickstarter completely changed me,” Ahmadi says seriously. “It restored my faith in humanity.”
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