Recently I sat down with Ali Malik, a native of the SF Bay Area and an American Muslim entrepreneur, who stumbled into the Halal restaurant business accidently after being in the banking and finance industry for 8 years.
A few years after the financial collapse of 2009, Ali became a partner at Falafel Corner in Fremont, CA. A few years later he started a new partnership at a Halal Mexican Restaurant called Gourmet Degree Grill in Union City, CA. Unfortunately they recently had to close down the restaurant, but that hasn’t discouraged Ali from looking for his next (Halal) venture!
I asked Ali to share some of the lessons he learned in the Halal Restaurant business so that others who are new to the industry or are thinking about getting into it can benefit from his experiences. Below is an edited summary of my interview with Ali Malik:
IR: What is the most important skill that you had before going into the Restaurant Business which you ended up using a lot in the industry?
AM: Prior to my involvement in the restaurant business I was well acquainted in the world of finance. Having brokered two successful restaurant purchases, I negotiated my way into two great deals. My accounting and finance skills proved to be very useful in handling the daily operations of the restaurant, employee wages, purchasing inventory and most importantly by applying efficiency through Lean Six Sigma, a methodology used to curb and eliminate procedural waste, as utilized by fortune 500 firms.
IR: What skill did you learn or get after being in the Restaurant Industry?
AM: I Learned management and people skills. Other factors such as how time consuming operating a restaurant can be, financial obligations, differences in management styles within a partnership – just to name a few.
IR: What is the most positive thing that happened to you from your experience in the Halal Restaurant industry?
AM: There were various positive aspects, one of which was realizing the huge demand for this industry, witnessing Muslim’s travel a far to satisfy their Halal cravings. The added bonus was seeing the customers appeased by the professional, friendly service provided. The Restaurant business is as much about the quality of the food as much as it is about maintaining a personal relationship with your patrons. Customer Service.
It was also interesting yet not surprising for me to hear my non halal clientele giving rave reviews about the quality of the meat. Once they tasted the fresh cleanliness of halal meat they would frequently revisit. Although it came with a premium, some even became avid consumers and changed their own personal lifestyle by shopping at the local mom and pop halal butchery.
IR: What was the most negative thing that happened to you from your experiences in the Halal Restaurant industry?AM: Although my intention was to provide and endorse halal, unfortunately, the restaurant was unable to uphold itself due to the lack of support and acceptance from the community. This had a major impact on the sustainability of the restaurant. This is not to say that I have given up on the halal industry altogether. This was but just a learning curve, there is much more out there to explore!
IR: Why do you think it is important for American Muslims to start businesses such as Halal Restaurants?
AM: We, the American Muslims, are generations behind countries like United Kingdom and South Africa in laying the foundation for promoting and owning halal businesses. Collectively we need to stand up and change what we criticize. Overall, I think having halal on the market will create a sense of “Unity in the Community” furthermore, constructing integration within our wider society by spreading awareness and bridging the gap between Islam and America.
IR: Besides having Zabihah Halal Meat, what else should a Halal Restaurant try to do to be “Halal” ?
AM: From an Islamic standpoint, make sure what you invest into your business is earned in the halal manner for the sake of baraka (blessings) and self-satisfaction.
Don’t keep alcohol.
Don’t serve halal meat alongside haram (Non-Halal) meat and ingredients.
Have a private seating area for families.
Cleanliness is half of our faith so maintain hygiene all around from the prep line, to cooking, front of the house, back kitchen, and especially have clean bathrooms! Did I mention the bathrooms?
IR: Approximately how much money should someone expect to put into starting a new restaurant and where does most of the costs go toward?
AM: It depends on factors such as location, whether it is a generation 1 or generation 2 restaurant, lease/rent, concept, and whether the Halal meat is hand slaughtered or machine slaughtered. Other factors such as, whether you are looking into buying an existing established restaurant (generation 2) carrying on with their concept or buying their goodwill and changing to your own concept. On the flip side, building a brand new location from the ground up (generation 1). I would never recommend doing that (generation 1) unless you have a strong franchise model behind you. A good rule of thumb is to evaluate your personal financial situation and not gamble everything you own in an industry that has, statistically, the highest rate of failure. Diversify. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and don’t gamble even if it is a calculated gamble on betting the entire house. Play it safe especially in the restaurant business.
IR: What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give to people interested to start a new Restaurant in general?
AM: 1) Know what you are getting yourself into; Partnership pitfalls, lack of experience, mismanagement, willing to sacrifice time, effort, money, and brain cells – just to name a few! It is as hard as it seems interesting and fun. You must be incredibly patient and relentless.
2) Understand and have confidence in your product and your niche market.
3) Expect and accept constructive criticism. Take it with stride and be willing to implement the changes.
Thanks again Ali for sharing your thoughts and I hope people will benefit from your experiences.
If anyone would like to ask additional questions to Ali or would like to contact him directly, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will forward your message onto him.