Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet and
showcases America’s culinary treasure—gas
station cuisine. TV host Hebert shares these
stories and on occasion, a recipe or two at
GasStationGourmet.com. He is a regular
NACS Magazine contributor, bringing foodservice ideas to readers.
Nazarali is adamant
about fresh, cooked
food; the Hooshburger
has garnered national
attention; the store
does not stock alcohol
but otherwise sells traditional c-store products.
An Iranian in rural Arkansas stands out. “Most customers like my accent. People think I’m Cajun,” Nazarali joked.
During the Iran hostage crisis, relations between Iran and the Untied States were hostile. But Nazarali got to know the
people of his new home. “They accepted me. Americans didn’t like the government in Iran; I didn’t like the government
in Iran. They accepted me. I love this country,” he said, adding that two of his children served in the U.S. Army.
Nazarali even got into local politics. He ran for justice of the peace and won, but served just one term before he redirected
his energy toward the Iranian resistance.
Burger with a Side of Politics
To this day, Nazarali strives to bring freedom to his
native country, working with the National Council
of Resistance of Iran. Many of his customers have
also embraced his struggle, but he doesn’t just make
his voice heard in his adopted hometown. If there is
activity in Congress, he heads to Washington, D.C.,
or to the United Nations. And he doesn’t go alone:
“Eighteen of my friends in Arkansas came with me
to the UN to protest the Iranian president when he
went to New York,” he said, adding, “They’ve done
that 14 or 15 times over the years.”
Yet while overall diplomatic efforts to date have
failed to bring harmony to his two home nations,
Nazarali’s Hooshburger has made great strides. His
blend of Persian spices with this iconic American
food brings the flavor—if not the leaders—of these
two cultures together on a bun. Harmony reigns on
“Every day food opens the door to talk about politics
in the Middle East,” he said. “The Hooshburger gives
me a chance to open my mouth and talk to them about
what is going on in Iran. This affects lives every day.”
Nazarali’s burgers are getting a lot of national
attention. Thrilllist.com named the Hooshburger the
best burger in Arkansas. It was mentioned recently
in Southern Living Magazine. His customers and the
community like the attention.
The Pig Trail Bypass Country Cafe serves more
than just burgers, however. “Friday and Saturday
nights we do Mexican. Customers love the Mexican
combo: one beef, one cheese and one bean burrito, a
taco, tostado and rice,” he said.
And Nazarali has managed to get American
comfort food just right. The Sunday lunch of fried
chicken with mashed potatoes and corn has received the seal of approval from local grandmothers.
“I told them, ‘ Y’all make it best,’ but it makes me feel
good,” he said.
All of the foodservice attention, coupled with a
great location—en route to Fayetteville’s annual
Bikes, Blues & BBQ event—has generated a lot of
interest among travelers. Nazarali estimates that
tourists make up 60% to 65% of his business.
A Little Different
The convenience store is not unlike most stores in
rural communities, except for a few differences—
including the pool table, which has been around since
the 1960s. As the only store in the community of
Crosses, it houses the only pool table available to the
public. “It was in the store when I bought it. Kids come
here and play pool three or four times a week,” he said.
You won’t find any alcohol for sale at Pig Trail
Bypass Country Cafe either. Nazarali learned that
stocking liquor and beer can make the business a target for burglars. “I don’t want the headache. No beer,
no breaking in. It’s safer with no beer,” he explained.
There’s also no grab-and-go. Nazarali is adamant
about fresh, cooked food. “You can buy a Toyota or a
Lamborghini, [but] my food is like a Lamborghini. If a
customer wants food to go, I cook it fresh for them.”
Nearly three decades ago, people said Nazarali
wouldn’t make it in this country. His indomitable
spirit proved naysayers wrong. “I’m proud to say I’m
American and Iranian. This country welcomed me
with open arms. I do anything I can do to help this
Nazarali looks to the future. “My goal is to push the
U. S. and Europe to help overthrow the Iranian regime,”
he said, then paused. “Meanwhile, we’ll paint a little bit