He was a child growing up in Iran, dreaming to come to the land of opportunities. Growing up in poor circumstances, he was grateful that his dreams did not have to be constrained by the limits of his father’s income. With a single-minded focus and unbridled determination, he landed in US at the age of 18 in 1974 with limited knowledge of English to pursue an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering. To support his education and to compensate for his lack of fluency in English, he had to take English classes and work in restaurants in addition to attending college. It was there that he uncovered his passion for excellent food and unparalleled customer service. Over six years, he got promoted through the ranks from dish-washer to the manager of a restaurant that could seat 1000. When he graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and joined the work-force as an engineer, he couldn’t find his joy, drawing plans sitting in an office. He came back where his passion was: right back to the restaurant business.
In 1990, along with two Spanish chefs as partners, he opened a restaurant called Meson Sabika, in Naperville, IL. This restaurant sits on a pristine 4-acre plot in Naperville and its building is a renovated 1847 mansion called the Willoway Manor. This restaurant can sit 1900 people at a time and is considered to one of the finest restaurants in Chicagoland. Many happy marriages in this area started with their first romantic date or their proposal within the romantic ambience of this landmark monument of love. I had a friend whose first date with her soul-mate happened at this restaurant. The entire experience moved her so much that she wanted her wedding reception to be at this very restaurant. Every time I visit this restaurant for a meal, I am deeply satisfied not just by the food, service, but the minute attention to details.
Meson Sabika, Naperville, IL
But, that is not what makes him great. To understand why I call this man an enlightened entrepreneur, we must know him a little better and dig a little deeper behind the curtains of this phenomenal restaurant. Let me introduce the hero of this story. His name is Hossein Jamali. I met Hossein and gradually got to know him as a fellow member of the Rotary club in Naperville. A man of few soft words, always with a gentle smile, his presence is always demonstrated by his selfless acts of service and phenomenal generosity. I had heard that Rick Warren, the famous pastor of Saddleback church tithes 90% of his income to charity. I have never met Rick, but meeting Hossein was as close as I could ever get to anyone at that level of stratospheric generosity.
Let me share stories of his actions. Every time there is a national of international disaster, he declares that every penny that the restaurant earns that day would be donated for that cause. (I am not talking about donating the profits, I am talking about donating the entire revenue). He does that couple of times in a year. Every Thanksgiving he opens his doors for free thanksgiving dinner for the needy. According to the restaurant website, he has donated around $970,735 dollars of cash for these causes during the recent years. This does not include all the non-cash donations that he has made in terms of free food and services.
These were the facts that anyone could see, but I was curious to understand his viewpoint and what prompts him to be this ultimate example of generosity. Hence, I was inspired to ask him to meet for lunch. I was excited when he agreed and finally we were able to meet for lunch. I thought that I had a pretty decent understanding about him, before I met him, but I was shocked to hear more directly from the horse’s mouth. He has been battling severe body pains for the past couple of years. The pain is so severe that he cannot stand or sit in one place for more than 30 seconds. Most of the days, he sits on massage chair constantly icing his back unsuccessfully trying to numb his pain. His pain is a result of constantly standing for 12–17 hours daily working in a restaurant and a couple of surgeries that did not exactly achieve the expected results.
Even in the middle of battling daily severe pains, he constantly monitors the tone of voice during his communication with his employees, whom he calls team-members. At any point, if he senses a little agitation (which rarely ever happens) in his voice, he calls it a day and goes home. He has an extremely high standard of behavior that he expects from himself. If he feels that his tone of voice can lower the vibe of the environment, he would suffer privately, rather than share his anguish with others.
When I asked him, what made his restaurant achieve the iconic stature that it has achieved, he shared a couple of his leadership principles. It was rigorous adherence to these principles that has resulted in this restaurant becoming the symbol of ultimate hospitality and quality. Here are some of his principles:
- He treats his employees exactly as the way he expects his employees to treat the restaurant guests. This is the ultimate example of the golden rule.
- In his previous restaurant experiences, he saw harassment of some employees. As a result, he has zero tolerance for any behavior that disrespects anyone. If you ever drop the f-bomb, you are fired without any question.
- As I was sitting with him in his restaurant, I was curious to see, how would he treat the waiter that would come to our table. As expected, he treated the waiter exactly the way he would want the waiter to treat the customers. He walked the walk, not just talked the talk.
- I asked him why he still comes to the restaurant while suffering enormous pain. He said that he lives for this restaurant and he cannot live one day without working in his restaurant. Even though, the restaurant functions very well in his absence and he is just there for any emergencies. The restaurant doesn’t need him, he needs the restaurant as the restaurant is his medium to achieve his purpose of unparalleled service.
- I asked him if his enormous donations dramatically affect his profitability adversely. He agreed to it. I further asked why he goes overboard in contributing to others. What he said to me, reflected the enlightenment that is rarely seen. He said that while growing up in Iran, he had seen immense poverty first hand. Hence, he is very grateful for living in the privileged land of USA and for raising his family in placid calmness and peace. According to him, getting the gifts from the land without giving back is the ultimate example of selfishness. Accordingly, for him sharing food, comforts and helping others is much more rewarding than driving a fancy car. This statement reminded me of a statement from Jim Carrey. “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.” This is the same Jim Carrey, who pursued his passion to become one of the greatest comedians of our times. This is the same Jim Carrey, who wrote a check for “Ten Million dollars” payable to himself for acting services rendered and post-dated — Thanksgiving 1995 as a reminder to believe in his vision. This is the same Jim Carrey who received 10 million dollars just before Thanksgiving 1995 for the movie “Dumb and Dumber” as a realization of his life’s dream. This is the same Jim Carrey who after achieving name, fame and money, started suffering from depression and started taking anti-depressants for a long time. Nothing helped him till the time he embraced his spiritual self. This is the same Jim Carrey who finally realized that our effect on others is the most powerful currency. That realization finally gave him true inner happiness.
Hossein now is the single owner of two of the best restaurants in Chicagoland, Meson Sabika and Tapas Valencia. He has around 90–100 employees who love him and embrace his philosophy of selfless service. But, what earns him the right to be an “enlightened entrepreneur” is the fact that he created a phenomenal organization not just to feed the stomach but to feed the soul. He used his enterprise to be a force for good, to be an example to be truly human in a world, where such examples are gradually diminishing. When I was leaving the restaurant after lunch, moved by this golden example of a true human-being, I asked if I could write an article about him and the lessons I learnt from him, he replied that he did not deserve the accolades and I was too kind. I said that I wanted to share this story for my happiness and because I believe that this story could inspire some to spread the message of selfless service and finally he reluctantly agreed.
To see this selfless organizational service in action, plan a family meal at Meson Sabika in Naperville or Tapas Valencia in Chicago, be prepared to be wowed. As you enjoy the meal, be aware that you just helped an inspiring force to make the world better.
Rajeev Priyadarshi is the founder and CEO of PR3 Systems, an IBM Premier Partner that specializes in training and consulting. He is also the author of The Tree of Inspiration and is a thought leader in the infotech industry. Follow him on Medium, Twitter, Facebook or his sign up for his newsletter to get inspiring content like this.