When the afternoon and evening rush hits, Gabor Kristof races around the small kitchen of his restaurant, the Gyro Nook on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Killeen.
With the help of his staff, he serves up a Hungarian version of the Greek gyro with a few of his special additions.
“In my country, usually the gyro is made with pork or chicken,” Kristof said. “Everybody knows gyros and say that is not Greek, but they like our menu.”
Kristof is one of many business owners in the Killeen area who are not originally from the United States. Business owners in the Killeen area are ethnically diverse for a number of reasons, said John Crutchfield, president of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce.
“I think one of the reasons that we have so much diversity is the effect that Fort Hood has on the community,” he said.
Many people who are connected in some way to the military installation are often
well traveled, Crutchfield said. Those people are also more open to and accepting of various cultures.
“The diversity makes people comfortable here,” Crutchfield said.
Colleges play roles
Central Texas College and Texas A&M University-Central Texas also play important roles in diversifying area business leaders. The schools are not capped, meaning their enrollments continually grow, and many people come to the United States to get an education.
For the managing principal of CenTex Technologies, Abdul Subhani, originally from Pakistan, the two higher education institutions are the reasons he came to Killeen.
“I came as an international student and was an international student at (Central Texas College),” Subhani said. “Then I did my master’s from Tarleton State University. Basically, I did all my education in Killeen and decided to stay.”
Crutchfield said another factor may be the lack of obstacles here for people to start businesses and get involved.
“I think the big reason they stay is because Killeen is a place I describe as having very few barriers,” he said. “I think the ability to assimilate into the community is very important to people. The quicker they assimilate and build social networks, the quicker they can develop a business if that is what they can do.”
Came as a student
Such was the case with Subhani. As a student, he started working as a program manager with Students in Free Enterprise, now Enactus, and then worked for the Boys & Girls Club of Central Texas. Later, the Boys & Girls Club sponsored his green card.
By 2005, Wallace Vernon, a Killeen entrepreneur, had convinced Subhani to open a technology business handling network administration. Since opening, CenTex Technology has transitioned into network administration, Web and mobile phone application development and Internet marketing. The business also has expanded into Dallas and Atlanta.
Subhani said he had a lot of help starting his business and few barriers.
“Here, it is a lot easier (to start a business) than anywhere else, but I give all my credit to Mr. Vernon because without him, I would not know about how to start a business and managing a business,” he said. “He was my mentor in how to manage the company and have employees and so forth.”
Subhani said Les Ledger of Copperas Cove, owner of Ledger Furniture, also helped him with the Boys & Girls Club.
Kristof, who has lived in the United States since 2000, married into the Central Texas community and, eventually, his restaurant. He came to the United States on a work visa and later opened his own construction company in Florida. There, he met his wife, Ashley Kristof, who grew up in Copperas Cove.
After having children, the couple decided to move back to Central Texas so her parents could be hands-on grandparents.
“When I was a child, I said, ‘I want to come, I want to come,’” Kristof said about the United States. “It was a childhood dream.”
Owning his own eatery was never a plan, until he went back to visit Hungary before moving to Central Texas. He and his wife ate some gyros there and said, “This food is good.”
Now Kristof is making them for his customers, who he treats like family.