Iraqi brothers bring the taste of home to Lincoln, Nebraska

After living in Lincoln for a little over eight years, brothers Karar and Mohammed Aljaberi have decided to bring their native foods to their new home. Originally from Iraq, Mohammed Aljaberi said he decided the ongoing Iraq War was too dangerous for him and his family, so he signed up to get involved in the United States Army to help the American soldiers translate their conversations. 

For safety reasons and better communication, the Army relocated Mohammed Aljaberi to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2009, and soon after, his parents and siblings, including Karar Aljaberi, were moved with him. Karar Aljaberi was studying computer communication and engineering in Iraq. He was able to transfer degrees and finish school at the Southeast Community College. 

The Aljaberi brothers said they grew up eating traditional Arabic dishes their mother would make, such as falafel, hummus and chicken and beef shawarma. Lincoln provides many options for Mexican, Chinese and Greek food, but the brothers said there were no restaurants that replicated the Middle Eastern flavors they loved. 

“No one around makes real, authentic kabobs or shawarma,” Mohammed Aljaberi said. “We wanted that here to really make it feel like home.” Once they obtained American citizenship, the brothers decided to bring their favorite flavors from the Middle East to Lincoln. On July 22, 2017, Habibi Kabob & Shawarma opened its Middle Eastern fares at 8222 Holdrege St. #10, and according to Mohammed Aljaberi, business has been booming. 

“The first Friday we were open, the line was out the door,” Aljaberi said. “We had to close early because we ran out of food for people.” Shawarma is a famous Arabic food where meat — usually lamb, chicken or beef — is most commonly seen grilled on a vertically rotating spit. Slices of the meat are cut off fresh for the meal being prepared, and the excess meat on the spit continues rotating and keeps warm. 

At Habibi, they grill and season their meat every morning, making sure the customers get only the best, according to Mohammed. On the menu, you can find fresh, homemade falafel, warm shawarma, gyros, baba ghanouj, kabobs, hummus and, if the customer still has room to spare at the end of their meal, baklava. “This is as real as it gets here,” Mohammed Aljaberi said. 

“We have been hearing lots of good things from new people that come in.” Along with the two brothers, the restaurant has a staff of friends, family as well as other new employees who reached out to them. Having fresh ingredients and produce delivered every day to every other day is something they pride themselves on. 

Mohammed Aljaberi said everything served at the restaurant is traditional Arabic and is exactly what they have eaten their whole lives. “Business has been a lot better than expected,” Mohammed Aljaberi said. “We love seeing people go out of their comfort zones and try out this type of food.” 

by Karin Ellefson

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