Dining in Zephyrhills as close as Next Door
Restaurateurs Yasser Kazbour and Duane Thompson have been fast friends since they graduated in the Zephyrhills High School senior class of 1994. Now, nearly 20 years later, they have partnered together to open the Next Door Diner in Zephyrhills.
Kazbour and Thompson met through a mutual friend in their senior year. Thompson had moved to ZHS in his junior year from the East Pasco Adventist School (now East Pasco Adventist Academy) and they hit it off.
They remained friends and stayed in contact as they went their separate ways after high school. Kazbour went directly into the food service business, working for his father Khaled “Kaz” Kazbour, owner of the Zephyrhills Hungry Howies.
“We moved down here from Michigan in ’88, and then he [Kaz] built his first business here, so I was working and helping him out all the way through,” Kazbour said. “When I graduated high school, I went out to Wesley Chapel, and right now I own the Hungry Howies in Wesley Chapel and New Tampa.”
Thompson enjoyed cooking as he grew up. “I come from a Jamaican background, so cooking is a very integral part of culture there,” he said.
He worked as a server or bartender in restaurants and later as a line cook. He attended Hillsborough Community College, but he decided he wanted make food service his career.
“I decided to formalize it a couple years ago,” he said. “I went to the Art Institute in Charleston. They have what they call the International Culinary School up there.”
Over the years, the two friends would talk about doing something in business together. “Dreaming,” Kazbour said.
Thompson was working as a chef in Charleston — thinking about going to work for an executive chef he knew — when a call came from Kazbour. His old friend asked him to consider starting a restaurant together.
For Thompson, it was a chance to come home, be in business with his friend and be near his family. It appeared to both of them that the timing was right. They opened the diner at 4917 Gall Blvd. on Feb. 4.
One of the hallmarks of their restaurant is food made or butchered or cured from scratch. Grits are made fresh, making a dish that does not form to the bowl but rather has the consistency of tapioca. Corned beef hash is made from pieces of corned beef cut from a brisket and cooked with potatoes.
Thompson cures his own bacon, prepares his own corned beef in brine and buys his meat in large cuts and butchers it for dishes himself. The result is food that customers notice.
Beth Hicks and her daughter, Patricia Kennedy, visited the Next Door Diner for the first time about three weeks ago.
“We have come in here every day since the first time we stopped in,” Kennedy said. “Everything’s fresh,” she said as she pointed to her Friday fish plate. “The fries are homemade.”
They are impressed with the grits and corned beef hash.
Even Kazbour is changing his taste in food. “I’ve watched this guy,” Thompson said with a grin looking at his partner. “He’s starting to become a little bit of a food snob now.”
Kazbour agrees. “I can’t go to a restaurant. I can’t go get a turkey sandwich because our turkey here is pulled turkey. I can’t have deli turkey anymore. I have to have the real thing.”
Both men make it a practice to buy as much as they can locally and seek to use organic produce. They also want to find ways to get their name out and to give back to the community. They look forward to becoming an integral part of their hometown.
The summertime is coming, but they are ready for the slow season without snowbirds. They have crunched the numbers and know they will be here when the season starts again.
“We’ll hang out,” joked Thompson. “I’ll be all right, we’ll be good to go.”
Next Door Diner may be reached at (813) 788-7887.