Sayed Sayied created a bit of his homeland in Maza Kabob restaurant in Fort Collins. Dan England / For BizWest

Maza Kabob brings bit of Afghanistan home

FORT COLLINS — Before he could coax Americans to try the food from his homeland, he had serve them their food.

Fed by his father’s work ethic, which gave him a good life back in Afghanistan, he fed New Yorkers hamburgers and fried chicken for 10 years. Sayed Sayied didn’t mind. It was a good business decision, and his father, who owned several businesses, taught him business sense, so much so that he trusted Sayed to run them when he traveled, even though his son wasn’t old enough to go to high school. He still remembers the address of his eatery in the Bronx, and those Bronx residents did love their fried chicken.

When he grew weary of waiting in the kind of long lines a crowded city would cause — 45 minutes for a bank, a day-and-a-half to get his green card — he remembered a trip he took to visit his uncle at Colorado State University. His wife, Fariha, had a father who went to school in Fort Collins as well. It was much quieter in Fort Collins, and the mountains that surrounded it reminded him of Afghanistan. He moved here with Fariha in 1989.

He wanted to open his own place, but he knew to open a business, you needed money. His father taught him that as well.

He didn’t have much, but he was a scrapper. He escaped Afghanistan in 1981 after the Soviets invaded, and he was unable to take his good life with him. So he borrowed $4,000 and paid nearly all of it for a hot dog cart. He shuffled around a bit and then picked a spot, 17th and Market in Denver, that put him between the new Rockies baseball stadium and downtown.  He didn’t know they would build a stadium there — he picked the location because it was close to the 16th Street Mall — but they did, and he made the most of his good luck.

He left his home in Fort Collins at 4 a.m., drove to Denver and worked the cart, and got home at midnight nearly every day. He did this for seven years, on the hottest days in the summer and in the dead of winter. One day he worked when the wind chill was minus-35 degrees. There were no other hot dog carts out there that day.

That day made him famous, as TV stations thought, rightly, that he was a good angle for a weather story (journalists are always looking for a way to make a weather story interesting). After that, people wanted to find the crazy foreigner who served hot dogs in the bitter cold.

In 2011, he finally had enough money to open Maza Kabob in Fort Collins, a place where he could serve food from his homeland, with one exception, a shrimp dish. Afghanistans never use shrimp in their dishes, but his customers were clamoring for seafood.

“I wanted to call it the ‘fake Afghanistan plate’,” Sayied said, “but my son wouldn’t let me.”

Maza Kabob is the tradename for Sayied’s company, Masoom LLC.

He always loved to cook. He would cook for his family as a way to blow off steam from managing his father’s businesses when he was a young teenager.

“It was a hobby,” Sayied said. “I really enjoyed it. I would throw cooking parties. They were really jealous of my wife.”

He never needed recipes or a cookbook, he said. They just came to him. Now he loves to share his food because it also introduces Americans to his culture. He has photos of special, unique scenes of his country, including a big, family-friendly photo of Buzkashi, a game where strong men play a delicate game with a dead calf. Sayied talks about the game the same way Broncos fans once talked about John Elway.

“People talk junk about Afghanistan, but we have 5,000 years of history,” he said without anger. “People die, empires die, even trees die, but the food goes from one generation to another. People love the food here.”

Sayied’s countertop menu displays large, clear pictures so Americans who may not know what Sabzi Challow, Chapati Naan or Lola is can look at the photos and decide what looks good. Those dishes and the Beef Daashi, dumplings and kabobs reflect what you’d expect to eat in Afghanistan, even if they are Sayied’s own take on them. He challenges his customers, telling them he will give their money back if they don’t like it (something he remembers doing only once).

“I try to check with every customer and ask how it is,” Sayied said.

Sayied became an American citizen years ago, and he loves the U.S. and is grateful for it: His big mouth about the politics in Afghanistan, as well as his grandfather’s influence, got him in trouble and forced him to leave. His grandfather was his best friend, he said, and acted as governor of a small state in Afghanistan. He loves politics today, though he is frustrated by Trump and the general apathy or ignorance of many voters.

“If I vote, I don’t vote like this,” Sayied said, and he covered his eyes.

He is proud of his two kids, a son and a daughter, Omar and Sosun, respectively, who graduated from college. Omar has a degree in electrical engineering, but he wants to help his father with the restaurant. All that hard work took a toll on Sayied, 60. He’s had two back surgeries, and arthritis is a constant companion.

“I have pain every single day,” he said. “But it is really nice when your kids sacrifice part of their lives for you. I don’t believe the people in this country. In Afghanistan, when you are grandma and grandpa, you become king and queen, but here, you just sort of set them aside.”

He is happy with the life he built in America. He is proud to be a citizen and call it home, and every day, despite the pain he feels, he loves serving the food that reminds him of the life he still misses far away.

Find Maza Kabob at 2427 S. College Ave. in Fort Collins or on the web at www.mazakabob.com.

FORT COLLINS — Before he could coax Americans to try the food from his homeland, he had serve them their food.

Fed by his father’s work ethic, which gave him a good life back in Afghanistan, he fed New Yorkers hamburgers and fried chicken for 10 years. Sayed Sayied didn’t mind. It was a good business decision, and his father, who owned several businesses, taught him business sense, so much so that he trusted Sayed to run them when he traveled, even though his son wasn’t old enough to go to high school. He still remembers the address of his eatery in the Bronx, and those Bronx residents did love their fried chicken.

When he grew weary of waiting in the kind of long lines a crowded city would cause — 45 minutes for a bank, a day-and-a-half to get his green card — he remembered a trip he took to visit his uncle at Colorado State University. His wife, Fariha, had a father who went to school in Fort Collins as well. It was much quieter in Fort Collins, and the mountains that surrounded it reminded him of Afghanistan. He moved here with Fariha in 1989.

He wanted to open his own place, but he knew to open a business, you needed money. His father taught him that as well.

He didn’t have much, but he was a scrapper. He escaped Afghanistan in 1981 after the Soviets invaded, and he…