With Shishkebab, Turkish taste back in Columbia County, GA

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Thanksgiving comes only once a year. But when you own a Turkish restaurant, every day can be Turkey Day. 

Sean Lee and his wife, Chizuko, reopened Shishkebab on Oct. 21 at 648 N. Belair Rd. It had been closed for about two years, after the previous owner shuttered the restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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The Lees ran the restaurant the first time about five years ago, Chizuko Lee said, but after Sean Lee started a trucking business. Keeping both businesses afloat proved difficult because of a shortage of staff. 

“We sold the restaurant to another owner,” Chizuko Lee said. “Then they didn’t want to do it anymore, so we took it back.” 

Yet another set of owners, husband-and-wife Atanur and Yonca Caliskan, opened Shishkebab in 2010 inside a former Huddle House restaurant. While ownership has changed through the years, it’s always stayed Turkish. Lee is Turkish, and has kept the menu largely the same.

The restaurant’s recipe for lentil soup, for example, belonged to his mother. 

“I’m really happy people like it . It’s my mother-in-law’s recipe,” Chizuko Lee said with a laugh.

Middle-Eastern customers frequent Shishkebab for its menu that’s halal, meaning it’s permissible to consume under Islamic law. A favorite menu item is the gyro kebab platter, made from rotisserie-cooked beef and lamb.

Fort Gordon personnel who have served in Germany also find their way to Shishkebab. Turks comprise the largest ethnic minority in Germany, according to population statistics. 

That’s what led Pablo Ivas to the restaurant recently with a late-lunch companion. Ivas was visiting from Germany. 

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“We have a lot of Turkish restaurants in Germany, and I was looking for a Turkish restaurant,” he said. 

“Many people are military people. They’re stationed in Germany and really familiar with Turkish food,” Chizuko Lee said. “They’ll come here for the gyros.” 

Another popular Shishkebab dish, baklava cheesecake, combines the traditional American dessert with a topping of the traditional Turkish dessert made from flaky pastry, honey and nuts. 

When asked what helps keep Shishkebab’s authenticity, Chizuko Lee nodded to several of her husband’s cousins behind the restaurant counter. 

“All those guys,” she said. Running the restaurant and a trucking company the first time around, “we didn’t have any help at the time. Now we have those guys, so were back in business.” 

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