The kebab king on Aussie drinking culture, dealing with his pantsless, singing customers and maintaining a sense of humour...
Jim Mitchell

24 Nov 2015 - 4:41 PM  UPDATED 16 Jun 2020 - 10:04 AM

Kebab Kings is a warts and all look at what goes on in two of Australia’s busiest kebab shops. Beliefs clash, people behave badly and frivolity is rife as all creeds enjoy a favourite pre-hangover snack. We talk all issues meaty within kebab culture with Mustafa Mohammed, Australian-Indian owner of Smith Kebabs, which he runs with wife Zareena in culturally eclectic Collingwood.


What’s the allure of the kebab for Australians?

[It’s] because of the taste, the taste is very nice, especially when you’re drunk! People like it, they want to have a heavy meal and it makes your tummy full. It’s easy to eat, you don’t want to waste your time, it’s like fast food. Burgers are too old now, kebabs are something new and Australians like it, the sauce, salad, everything. It’s all fresh.


In the show you talk about being respectful of people. Is that your customer service philosophy?

Exactly, exactly. When the customer comes in, what we want is when he leaves he has to have a smiley face. It’s a human thing; you have to give respect to every human. They’re coming to our shop and we are fortunate to serve food to them.


How hard is it though when clientele comes in and they’re drunk and rude to you, they’re not respecting you? How do you deal with that?

Sometimes it happens but we try to have patience and we try to negotiate it properly. When you talk to any person who is not behaving well or is very aggressive to you, you try to talk to them very politely and say ‘Mate, what’s the problem? We’ll fix the problem, so you don’t worry.’ So everyone’s communicating.


Are you ever surprised late at night during the witching hours at the sort of conversations you hear?

Sometimes I listen to a few things - some people want to go for holidays, some of them are sick, they’ve had breakups, too many things.

"... We say ‘Mate, what you’re doing is not good. Please put your pants on!'"

What are some of the funnier experiences you’ve had with inebriated customers?

A lot of funny things are going on in the shop always, that’s why we like the job. Some people come up and start singing, some of them come up and take their pants off! They’re drunk and so they don’t know what they’re doing.


You’re Muslims working in an area where there are gay clubs and hipster bars, among attitudes that may not sit well with your faith. How do you manage that?

Sometimes it’s strange [and you think] ‘Oh my God. What to do? What’s next?’ and we say ‘Mate, what you’re doing is not good. Please put your pants on! You can go home or have kebabs or you can have a seat.’ We say ‘Please behave yourself because a lot of people around here won’t feel good [to see that].’


What did your parents think when they visited from India?

My mum was a little bit shocked seeing this but she said ‘That’s the culture up here so that’s ok. What can we do?’


You've lived here since 2006. What do you think of Australian drinking culture?

I think drinking is not good at all. It’s not good for health, it’s not good for the community. I don’t recommend alcohol to people because I see a lot of incidents going on. A lot of people, when they’re drunk, they don’t know what they’re doing. They sleep on the streets, they sleep in the shop. They don’t know how to eat kebabs as well. I feel very bad. Why do they drink too much?

But it’s their choice. If they want to have alcohol, that’s ok. But if you want to have alcohol, have it within your limit. Don’t exceed your limit so when your friend tells you what you did you don’t even remember what was going on.


So it can be a pretty challenging environment to work in?

Yes, it is very challenging. Because we have been working for a long time, we are used to it now. We’ve faced a lot of things and now, we think [this] is our thing so we don’t care.


You’d have to have a good sense of humour too.

Yes, of course, of course. Sometimes we make mistakes as well but we try to manage things with humour... Give respect and take respect. If you give respect to people, they will give respect to you. If you don’t give respect, they won’t give you respect.

"I think drinking is not good at all. It’s not good for health, it’s not good for the community."

The Sydney siege happened while you were filming last year – how did that affect you?

What happened was very bad. What [Man Haron Monis] did was he went beyond humanity. What he did was totally wrong. We believe that the Government has to make Australia safe so people can live peacefully. It affected us a lot because we live here, we work here, this is our country. When someone is doing something very bad to our country it doesn’t feel very good, it hurts.


How many kebab shops would you like to open?

You can dream… but we’re thinking at least four or five shops in Melbourne and more shops in all of Australia - almost every city would have a shop with our name. [We have] big, huge plans. My daughter could inherit the business. We’ll see.


Kebab Kings streaming at SBS On Demand until 30 June 2020.