With Arabic music playing in the background, smoke billowed from Dominique Batten’s mouth after she puffed on a hookah pipe. Batten likes the backyard and family vibe Mediterranean restaurant Hupply Pupply offers and comes to the “hole-in-the-wall” as often as she can.
“If you want a taste of the real Middle East, this would be the place to go here in Killeen,” she said. “Rather than going to San Antonio or Austin, stay local. Bring home money for the community.”
Since the business opened last summer, owner Al Azim expanded his menu seven times, added a grocery store, grew clientele and established branches across the U.S. as well as a hookah bar inside Starlite Station. His location at 3300 Florence Road in Killeen is two acres, features an outdoor stage and seating and opened a new indoor section with cushions on the floor to sit on instead of chairs, adding a Middle Eastern feel.
Azim hosts free events at least twice a month, featuring belly dancers, sword dancers and fire twirlers. Janet Adams, a tribal belly dance instructor at Central Texas College’s continuing education department, performs at the restaurant.
“It’s great. It’s absolutely great. It’s so informal,” she said. “Kids are welcome. They can just run around and nobody is bothered by it. It’s kind of like being at your friends’ backyard party.”
Adams started belly dancing in the late ’90s and said it’s a form of expression.
“It’s very feminine,” she said. “I feel like it celebrates the goddess within.”
When the business started last summer, about 20 people attended Hupply Pupply’s events. Now, Azim gets crowds as big as 400. He said customers often say they don’t feel like they’re at a restaurant.
“They feel like they’re home. It’s relaxing. They feel like they can do whatever (and) they can enjoy their time,” Azim said. “We don’t ask the customers to leave. As a matter of fact, we get upset if the customer leaves fast. We want them to relax and stay longer.”