After years of operating a halal meat market and international food store in Kenner, Nabil Kased has opened a second store in Baton Rouge.
Kased’s International Market sells a wide range of products, including European chocolates, Arab cheeses and Indian pickles. The store also has a butcher counter, selling freshly cut beef, lamb and goat.
“Most stores sell Mediterranean or Middle Eastern products or are Asian/Indian stores, but our store is actually international,” said Kased. “You can find European, Turkish, Indian, Arab products.”
Despite the focus on meat that meets Islamic dietary restrictions, about 60 percent of the people who shop at the Baton Rouge store aren’t Muslims.
“Our typical customer is everybody,” Kased said. “White, black, Chinese, Arab, Spanish — everybody comes in here and shops because of the variety of products we have.”
Kased, 44, said he decided to open the international food store and meat market after operating a similar business, Kased Brothers Halal, on Williams Boulevard in Kenner since 2004. Kased’s grandparents were Palestinians, but his parents were born in America. He was born in Puerto Rico and spent his childhood in Brooklyn.
Halal, Arabic for “permissible,” refers to items that are allowed for Muslims to use or consume. When referring to food, it means that the items have been prepared in accordance with Islamic law. Kased and his brother, Nadeem, own a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved slaughterhouse in Summit, Mississippi, where all of the animals are killed and prepared for delivery to his stores.
“You’re not supposed to make the animal suffer. You make sure it’s not under stress and it drinks water before it dies,” Kased said. “When the animal is slaughtered, you make sure to cut the jugular veins so it dies without suffering.” The animal’s blood is then completely drained, since eating blood is not allowed under Islamic law.
Because the cows, goats and lambs are killed quickly and the blood is drained, Kased said, the meat tastes better. “Our faith makes the meat good,” he said.
Another factor playing into the quality of Kased’s meat is the local sourcing. About 80 percent to 90 percent of the lambs and goats sold at the market come from farmers in Louisiana and Mississippi. And none of the beef comes from farther away than Texas.
“We sell young lambs, 1 year old or less,” Kased said. “They don’t have that wild taste or that wild smell. It’s clean meat.”
The animals are slaughtered on Mondays and Thursdays, meaning customers at Kased’s stores have a regular supply of fresh meat. The markets go through about 100 to 150 goats and lambs and 10 head of cattle each week.
The Kased brothers started selling meat for home delivery in late 1999, before opening the Kenner store five years later. Over the years, Kased Brothers built up a following among shoppers of all faiths.
“Forty percent of New Orleans chefs buy the meat for their homes from our store,” Kased said. On the weekends, about 25 percent of shoppers at the store were coming from Baton Rouge.
“They were complaining and saying, ‘Why don’t you open a location in Baton Rouge?’ ” he said. But opening a store in Baton Rouge wasn’t easy. Muslims believe that paying and charging interest is a sin, so getting bank financing to buy property was out. Kased would have to find a property owner who was willing to work with him. He lucked out when he found a property at 8129 Florida Blvd., in what was once a plasma center.
“The owners of this building were nice enough to do owner-financing with a promissory note,” Kased said. “So I did not have to deal with interest.”
After Kased settled in the building, he found an added benefit. The mosque at the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge is just across the street from his store.
“My belief is that if your intention is good and you try to do good, God makes good things happen,” he said. “If it’s not good, he would not let it happen.”
Along with selling fresh meat, produce and grocery items, Kased’s has a kitchen selling hot food, such as beef shawarma, chicken wings and lamb kabobs. The kitchen will soon start selling “old Italian country pizzas” with a tomato sauce that Kased said takes at least six hours to cook.
“All of the food in the kitchen comes straight from our meat department,” he said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.