This is Zeeshan Ali, the co-owner of Salad Pangea. He’s been in the food industry for most of his life but only recently purchased his first food business with his brother, Shadman Saeed. He grew up working in his father’s restaurant, Kabab King, which his father opened after emigrating from Pakistan in 1993 and realizing that there was a huge Pakistani/Indian community in New York that wanted halal food but had nowhere to buy it. Although Zeeshan worked in the industry for years, he was never set on making it a career until he got the chance to purchase Salad Pangea. Now, although he’s young (just 23 years old), this eager entrepreneur is committed to doing everything possible to make sure that his business is a success and that he can use his expertise to improve previous standards and redefine halal food service.
Zeeshan began working at his father’s restaurant when he was 13 years old. Throughout the years he worked heavily in their catering business, helping to execute catering orders for groups of 75-1,000 people and dealing with every aspect of logistics and operations from outreach to food prep to delivery. He worked for his father until he was 20 years old and then decided to branch out on his own and pursue other interests. He tried going down a few different paths: a food distribution business, medical school, but nothing seemed to be a good fit and it was important to him that he enjoyed the work that he was doing. Then one day he received an offer to take over a family friend’s catering business, Salad Pangea. The owner had decided to leave the restaurant industry and approached Zeeshan and his brother because he believed that they had the skills to take the business to the next level. Zeeshan says that it wasn’t a hard decision because this gave him the opportunity to work at something that he already had experience in and that he had a passion for. He and his brother purchased the business and have been running it for the last 8 months.
Growing up working for his father has allowed Zeeshan to watch how the restaurant industry works from a young age, understand it and improve it for his own business. Once they took over Salad Pangea, he and Shadman immediately began looking over business costs and cutting out any unnecessary expenses to make it more efficient. They have a small team of employees, including themselves, that work out of a food incubator, Pilotworks, in Brooklyn. They rent kitchen space for a few hours each day to prepare the food and do their deliveries so they’re able to keep their price point low, compared to other vendors like Chop’t and Just Salad that are larger operations with retail locations. Because they focus solely on catering, they’re able to go into different fields and expand, which is exactly what Zeeshan plans to do. He’s starting culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education at the end of October and is hoping to bring what he learns there into practice at Salad Pangea and eventually evolve the business into a full scale catering company that provides halal food from all different cuisines around the world. Taking over Salad Pangea has allowed him to realize that there are so many other ways to provide customers with food and that there are so many more communities that he can introduce halal food service to.
Through his work in the food industry, Zeeshan believes that most restaurants, like his father’s, were created to fill a need. But he has a different way of looking at things. He believes that this generation of consumers is interested in trying something new, specifically in the halal community, and he wants to be the solution for them. He wants to change the perception of halal food, creating a need for a cuisine that he doesn’t believe exists yet: high-end halal dining. And he’s focused on making it a reality. But he knows that this evolution will take time, which is why culinary school is an important step for him to be able to more deeply understand food, expand his ideas and recipes and eventually teach them to others. Although going to culinary school and running a business at the same time will not be easy, he’s focused on making it work saying, “In order for me to understand this industry, I need to have those skills. If I can’t do it, how am I going to explain it to anybody else?” As is it, he says he only sleeps about 3 or 4 hours a night but he enjoys having a lot on his plate and thinks that free time is a waste. His experience in the restaurant industry has taught him to work hard and he’s ready to hustle as much as he needs to bring his musings to life.
Zeeshan says that since taking over Salad Pangea his mind has shifted on how he should be doing business and he’s taking the necessary steps to create a new concept in halal food service focused on differentiation, quality and customer service. He knows that it will be tough, since older generations of halal restaurant owners focus on providing the food that they know, but he’s up to the challenge. For Zeeshan, the best part of the job is being able to execute a business plan as you see fit and change the plan if needed. And he’s happy to do that as he continues on this journey, as long as he’s doing it his way.
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