Qayum Karzai, owner of The Helmand in Mount Vernon and one-time Afghan politician, has died – The Baltimore Banner

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Qayum Karzai, the owner of the popular The Helmand restaurant in Mount Vernon and brother of a former president of Afghanistan, died Thursday.

Karzai, who lived in Glenwood, was 77. His son, Helmand Karzai, said the cause of death was a heart attack.

“He’d been doing great,” Helmand said. “He’s been as active as ever recently.”

Qayum Karzai was closely involved in the operation of his three Baltimore restaurants. He had just spent Memorial Day weekend with his family, including four grandchildren.

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Condolences for the well-connected restaurateur began to pour in from across the globe within hours of his death.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a family friend and former minister of foreign affairs in Afghanistan, and Said T. Jawad, a former ambassador to Washington, D.C., London and Moscow, posted remembrances of Karzai on social media.

“I pray to Allah to grant the deceased Paradise,” Abdullah wrote on Facebook.

“His principled stance in politics, modesty, courtesy, eloquence, commitment to democracy,“ as well as his passion for Afghanistan, “continue to inspire,” Jawad posted to X.

In addition to The Helmand, Karzai also owned Tapas Teatro and Helmand Kabobi. The Baltimore eateries came after he folded a Chicago restaurant and moved east.

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The Helmand drew rave reviews from writers around the country, including in The New York Times and The Associated Press.

“As for my determination to have a whole plate of aushak to myself on my next visit, in a phone call, Qayum Karzai advised the following: ‘The best way to eat Afghan food is to share,’” Karzai told AP reporter Beth Harpaz.

Abdullah Abdullah, a former minister of foreign affairs in Afghanistan, confirmed the death of Qayum Karzai, the owner of The Helmand restaurant in Mount Vernon, in a Facebook post. Karzai, a Columbia resident and the brother of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, died Wednesday, May 29, 2024. He was 77. (Abdullah Abdulla/Facebook)

Karzai was humble about the fare at his restaurants and recognized that people went out to eat for reasons beyond dining.

“Don’t assume that you have the best food,” Karzai told Baltimore magazine in 2019. “People are not coming for the food. People are coming in to leave the day behind.”

Said T. Jawad, a former Afghan ambassador to the U.S., expressed condolences for the death of Qayum Karzai, a former Afghan official and owner of The Helmand restaurant in Mount Vernon. (Twitter/Said T Jawad)

Karzai was born in 1947 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He moved to the U.S. in 1969, initially set on becoming a pilot. But his plans were derailed by a case of vertigo, and he got a job working at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

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In 1973, he married Pat Morgan, whom he’d met in Washington. The couple together had two children: their son, Helmand, and a daughter named Ariana.

Helmand Karzai, who works with his family’s business, said his father instilled in him the importance of good customer service and being visible in his restaurants. “He’s kind of old school in a way, that the owner should be present,” he said.

Amu TV, a Virginia-based television station and digital network focusing on Afghanistan, reported that Karzai returned to his native country for a time after being elected to Afghanistan’s parliament in 2004. After critics said he didn’t show up often, he resigned in 2008, the outlet reported.

Karzai ran for president in Afghanistan in 2014, hoping to succeed his brother, Hamid, who led the country the 12 years prior, but dropped out of the race.

In addition to his work in hospitality and politics, Qayum Karzai was an avid gardener and passionate about flowers and plants. “It kept him very active the older he got,” Helmand Karzai said.

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