Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

American-style fast food delights Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Baghdad's embattled residents can finally get their milkshakes, chili-cheese dogs and buckets of crispy fried chicken. Original recipe or extra spicy, of course.

A wave of new American-style restaurants is spreading across the Iraqi capital, enticing customers hungry for alternatives to traditional offerings like lamb kebabs and fire-roasted carp.

The fad is a sign that Iraqis, saddled with violence for years and still experiencing almost daily bombings and shootings, are prepared to move on and embrace ordinary pleasures — like stuffing their faces with pizza.

Iraqi entrepreneurs and investors from nearby countries, not big multinational chains, are driving the food craze. They see Iraq as an untapped market of increasingly adventurous eaters where competition is low and the potential returns are high.

"We're fed up with traditional food," said government employee Osama al-Ani as he munched on pizza at one of the packed new restaurants last week. "We want to try something different."

Among the latest additions is a sit-down restaurant called Chili House. Its glossy menu touts Caesar salads and hot wing appetizers along with all-American entrees like three-way chili, Philly cheesesteaks and a nearly half-pound "Big Mouth Chizzila" burger.

On a recent afternoon, uniformed servers navigated a two-story dining room bustling with extended families and groups of teenagers. Toddlers wandered around an indoor play area.

The restaurant, located in the upscale neighborhood of Jadiriyah, is connected to Baghdad's only branch of Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken, a U.S. chain concentrated in a handful of Midwestern and Southern states.

Azad al-Hadad, managing director of a company called Kurdistan Bridge that brought the restaurants to Iraq, said he and his fellow investors decided to open them because they couldn't find decent fried chicken and burgers in Iraq. He called the restaurants a safe investment for companies like his that are getting in early. He already has plans to open several more branches in the next six months.

"Everybody likes to eat and dress up. This is something that brings people together," he explained. "People tell us: 'We feel like we're out of Baghdad. And that makes us feel satisfied.' "

Baghdad's Green Zone and nearby U.S. military bases once sported outposts of big American chains, including Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway, but they shut down as American troops left last year. Because they were hidden behind checkpoint-controlled fortifications, most ordinary Iraqis never had a chance to get close to them, anyway.

Yum Brands Inc., owner of the Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC chains, has no plans to return to Iraq for now, spokesman Christopher Fuller said. Burger King declined to comment on its Iraq plans, and Subway did not respond.

Dining out in Iraq is not without risk. Ice cream parlors, restaurants and cafes were among the targets of a brutal string of attacks that tore through Iraq on Aug. 16, leaving more than 90 people dead.

Iraqis say the chance to relax in clean surroundings over a meal out is worth the gamble. For them, the restaurants are a symbol of progress.

"This gives you a feeling the country's on the right track," said Wameed Fawzi, a chemical engineer enjoying Lee's fried chicken strips with his wife Samara.

Baghdad's Mansour district is the heart of the fast-food scene.

At the height of sectarian fighting in 2006 and 2007, it was tough to find shops open along the neighborhood's main drag. Militants targeted shop owners in a campaign to undermine government efforts to restore normality.

These days, roads are packed with cars. The traditional Arabic restaurants long popular here now find themselves competing against foreign-sounding rivals such as Florida Fried Chicken, Mr. Potato, Pizza Boat and Burger Friends.

There is even a blatant KFC knockoff called KFG, which owner Zaid Sadiq insists stands for Kentucky Family Group. He said he picked the name because he wanted something similar to the world-famous fried chicken chain. And he believes his chicken is just as good.

"In the future my restaurant will be as famous as KFC. Why not?" he said.

One of Mansour's newest additions is Burger Joint, a slick shop serving up respectable burgers and milkshakes to a soundtrack that includes Frank Sinatra. It is the creation of VQ Investment Group, a firm with operations in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.

Its Mansour store is outfitted with stylish stone walls and flat-screen televisions. Another branch just opened across town in the commercial district of Karradah.

Even so, running a restaurant in Iraq is not without its challenges.

Burger Joint's servers had to give up the iPads they originally used to take orders because the Internet kept cutting out, he said. Finding foreign ingredients such as Heinz ketchup and year-round supplies of lettuce is also tricky, and many customers need help understanding foreign menu items like milkshakes and cookies.

Health experts are predictably not thrilled about the new arrivals.

"The opening of these American-style restaurants … will make Iraqis, especially children, fatter," said Dr. Sarmad Hamid, a physician at a Baghdad government hospital. But even he acknowledged that the new eateries aren't all bad.

"People might benefit psychologically by sitting down in a quiet, clean and relatively fancy place with their families, away from the usual chaos in Iraqi cities," he said.

Comments
Why Jon Gruden was the best mistake the Bucs ever made

Why Jon Gruden was the best mistake the Bucs ever made

Warren Sapp pointed to the sky. And then he dropped Kurt Warner to the ground.The Bucs had just intercepted Warner for the fourth time. Sapp’s block cleared the way for Derrick Brooks to cross the goal line and clinch the win.Before Tampa Bay p...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Crash closes Lutz Lake Fern Road at Cypress Green Drive

LUTZ — Lutz Lake Fern Road is closed in both directions at Cypress Green Drive after a crash Sunday morning, deputies reported.The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the crash, said HCSO spokesman Danny Alvarez.Stay with tampabay.c...
Updated: 29 minutes ago

Woman, 24, hit by Land Rover, in critical condition

LARGO — A 24-year-old woman is in critical condition after she was struck by a vehicle Saturday night, police said.Khadijah Wood was walking through the parking lot of the Sandy Lane Apartment Homes on Belcher Road about 7:30 p.m.At the same time, Ju...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Warm, sunny Sunday in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — It’s another bright, sunny day in Tampa Bay. 10News WTSPThe latest Tampa Bay-area radar 10News WTSPFeels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay areaHigh temperatures should reach about 80 d...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Murder suspect is on the run after fatally shooting a father, cops say

Murder suspect is on the run after fatally shooting a father, cops say

A first-degree murder suspect remains at large almost a week after the fatal shooting of a Winter Haven father.The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says Johnny Ray Owsley’s murder of 35-year-old Adam Thrower, called "Cook" by friends, involved Owsley’s e...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning wins at Avalanche with four-goal second period

Lightning wins at Avalanche with four-goal second period

DENVER — The Lightning left for Las Vegas Saturday for the first of four nights in Sin City.But Tampa Bay’s first regret came before it boarded the charter flight; the Lighting lamented making Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Avalanche much more thrilling...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David out for Monday’s game vs. Falcons

TAMPA — As if containing All-Pro Julio Jones and the Falcons offense isn’t challenging enough, the Bucs will try to do so Monday night without perhaps their top defensive players, tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David.On Saturday, Bucs coa...
Published: 12/16/17
Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

WASHINGTON — Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth....
Published: 12/16/17
Aquarium reopens to divers

Aquarium reopens to divers

Florida Keys News BureauVisitors to Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters dive with among indigenous Keys fish Friday in Marathon. The attraction reopened Friday after closing just before Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys on Sept. 10. Although tourism f...
Published: 12/16/17
Florida moves to control booming, invasive iguanas

Florida moves to control booming, invasive iguanas

MIAMI — With burrowing iguanas showing up in people’s toilets and damaging expensive sewer lines, Florida wildlife managers are stepping up efforts to control the state’s booming population of the wild, invasive reptiles. The Florida Fish and Wildlif...
Published: 12/16/17