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Milton family grieves beloved Kabul restaurateur

Family recalls his courage, generosity

From left, Zuhayr Hemady, Nadia Hamade, and Faisal Hamada in Milton. Nadia’s son, Kamel Hamade, was killed recently trying to protect customers at his restaurant in Afghanistan who were under attack by Taliban gunmen.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE

From left, Zuhayr Hemady, Nadia Hamade, and Faisal Hamada in Milton. Nadia’s son, Kamel Hamade, was killed recently trying to protect customers at his restaurant in Afghanistan who were under attack by Taliban gunmen.

MILTON — When a Taliban suicide bomber and two gunmen stormed a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul two weeks ago, they left 21 people dead and a wave of grief that has devastated a close-knit family in Milton.

The restaurant owner, 60-year-old Kamel Hamade of Beirut, died in a hail of automatic gunfire as he battled the intruders with only a handgun. Hamade had herded his staff out an exit before he died, but he could not save 20 patrons — Americans, Lebanese, Britons, and ordinary Afghans among them — who had been dining at one of the most popular restaurants in the capital.

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Now, halfway across the world in Milton, Hamade’s mother, two brothers, and other relatives are comforting themselves with memories of a self-made restaurateur who they said cared more about healing Afghanistan than making a profit from his cuisine.

But Kamel had become so concerned about the danger in Afghanistan, his family said, that he had begun making plans to leave.

“I believe that God sent him into this world with a mission. When he accomplished this mission, God took him back,” said his 83-year-old mother, Nadia Hamade.

On Sunday afternoon, a day after a memorial service drew hundreds to a Milton funeral home, Hamade’s mother sat in her living room, dressed in black, recalling a son who as a boy would give pocket money to the poor in Lebanon.

Kamel Hamade sought to aid Afghanistan.

Kamel Hamade sought to aid Afghanistan.

Those charitable qualities grew stronger over time, she said, and for the past eight years her son tried fearlessly to build an oasis of normalcy in a city that has known little peace for decades.

“He died as a hero,” Hamade said.

Kamel Hamade never visited Milton, but his legacy of selflessness will become part of One Fund Boston, the charity established for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and the families of those killed. The Hamade family has suggested that donations in Kamel’s memory be made to the fund.

“We feel that he was a victim in the same sense that the Boston Marathon victims were,” said Dr. Zuhayr Hemady, Kamel’s brother and an allergist who lives in Milton. “They were killed by the same kind of people.”

The size of the crowd at the memorial service showed deep respect for a family that, in Zuhayr Hemady’s words, considers the United States the “greatest country in the world.” Hemady came to the United States for medical training 30 years ago, and others in his family followed, including his mother.

Another brother, Dr. Faisal Hamada of Milton, works as a pulmonary and critical-care physician at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton. His wife, Zeina, teaches French immersion in the second grade for the Milton public schools, and their son, Kareem, is a freshman at Boston College High School.

The family surnames are slightly different because, in an experience shared by many immigrants, they were translated differently.

Of Nadia Hamade’s seven boys, five became physicians. But Kamel, a lawyer by education, was bitten by the restaurant bug even though he had never received formal training. His first stop was Romania, where he began his culinary adventure before deciding to relocate to Kabul on the encouragement of friends.

In 2006 the city, which was liberated from the Taliban five years earlier, posed a business opportunity for Kamel, his family said. But there also was something else.

“He felt he could contribute to the country’s development,” his 63-year-old brother Zuhayr said. “Over time, he grew to love the place.”

The restaurant, called Taverna du Liban and located in a diplomatic district, became a magnet for foreign government officials; expatriates working in nonprofit agencies from the United States, Europe, and elsewhere; and Afghans with a taste for Lebanese food.

Kamel personally baked the chocolate cakes, which became a signature dessert at a restaurant that valued its warm ambience as much as its menu, his family said. Kamel often sat with his guests, routinely sent more food than had been ordered, and was scrupulously vigilant about safety.

The restaurant was one of the few places in Kabul that foreign organizations allowed their employees to patronize. And many of the profits from those diners, Kamel’s mother said, went to Afghan animal shelters.

Metal doors protected the restaurant from the street, guards and a dog added another layer of security, and guests were screened for weapons before they entered, his brothers said. But on Jan. 17, those precautions proved inadequate against a carefully planned, meticulously executed attack.

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the gate, killing three guards and the dog, and blasting open the barricade. Two gunmen with automatic weapons assaulted the restaurant, one from the rear of the building. After the initial explosion, Kamel shepherded his employees out a safe exit and grabbed a handgun from upstairs.

After he dashed to the restaurant below, determined to protect his customers, he found himself outgunned and overpowered. The fatal bullet pierced Kamel’s heart, his brother Faisal said.

“He had an opportunity to escape with the staff, but he wanted to defend the guests,” Zuhayr Hemady said. One of the victims was the head of the International Monetary Fund in Afghanistan, a friend of Kamel’s.

Erin Jensen, the wife of the principal of the International School of Kabul, described Kamel in an e-mail to his daughter, Muna, as “an incredible man that touched the lives of so many of us here. . . . He created an oasis of amazing food, atmosphere, and hospitality that made his restaurant the best in Afghanistan.”

To Kamel’s family, who are from the Druze sect in Lebanon, he died in defense of civilized life.

“He felt that he was helping the Afghan people develop and become more in tune with the 21st century,” Zuhayr Hemady said. At the same time, he added, Taverna du Liban helped “Afghans enjoy a good meal and get away from the danger that was lurking around them.”

That danger prompted Hamade, who had a wife in Beirut and two daughters, to weigh his commitment in Kabul against the peril. Most US and allied troops are scheduled to withdraw by the end of the year.

“He had doubts,” Zuhayr Hemady said.

So much so, Faisal said, that his brother decided he would leave in March.

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.
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