Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Stepping Forward with Confidence

Sami Rahman enjoys a moment with lunchtime clients at his restaurant, Sami’s Pizza and Grill. Photos by Don Manley

Sami Rahman enjoys a moment with lunchtime clients at his restaurant, Sami’s Pizza and Grill. Photos by Don Manley

Sami Rahman has reinvented himself several times over the almost two decades that he has owned his Marco Island business.

The most recent revision is a dramatic one that has seen him shift his focus to prepared foods rather than offering an assortment of groceries and household items. Rahman is the owner of the former Kwik Stop, the N. Collier Boulevard establishment that’s been slowly transformed from a link in a corporate convenience store chain into Sami’s Pizza and Grill.

Sami’s offers pizza, whole or by the slice, pasta dishes and other Italian favorites, salads and sandwiches, burgers and gyros, kabobs, desserts, a broad selection of Mexican dishes and more. All food items are made to order, on-site, and customers can enjoy them there, as take-out or have their order delivered, including to Goodland and Isles of Capri.

Isabel Juan prepares one of her Mexican dishes for a customer at Sami’s Pizza and Grill.

Isabel Juan prepares one of her Mexican dishes for a customer at Sami’s Pizza and Grill.

Renovation work began in July to convert the building into a restaurant with limited indoor and outdoor seating. Work should be completed later this month and Rahman also plans to also serve beer and wine, once he receives a license.

He initially began offering prepared food in 2005, when the real estate market crashed.

Diana Leasanu, the manager at Sami’s Pizza and Grill, takes care of a customer.

Diana Leasanu, the manager at Sami’s Pizza and Grill, takes care of a customer.

“I lost like 52 percent of my business in one month so I had to revamp myself,” he said. So he added Isabel Juan to his team to prepare the home-style Mexican fare he believed would draw in customers on weekdays.

“The food she cooks, it’s like a homecooked meal,” said Rahman. “There are a lot of restaurants that serve Mexican food, kind of a Tex-Mex. But for me, this is real and authentic. At lunchtime, I have all the Hispanic workers coming in and lining up to get food because they know this is like a home-cooked meal their grandmother would make. I have a lot of people who love the tacos that we make, the burritos, the quesadillas. My rice and beans have so much flavor to them.”

Pizza and other Italian items were added to the menu about three years ago after Rahman and a friend who was visiting from New York City ordered a pie from a local pizzeria and they weren’t happy with the product. The experience resulted in Rahman hiring someone to create a recipe for New York-style pizza for him.

“I brought him in and we got the whole pizza thing started,” he said. “We use his recipe and God has been very kind.”

Rahman said the popularity of his food showed him that there was a niche to be filled in the local restaurant scene and provided the incentive to make the switch to a full-fledged restaurant.

“In the 17 years that I’ve been here, there have been some great restaurants that offered a high quality of food, but at a price that I, as a person who’s working seven days a week, I couldn’t afford,” he said. “There are a lot of restaurants that kind of stopped catering to the local people, people who don’t want to pay an arm and a leg, but they still want quality and quantity.”

Sami’s Pizza and Grill features the “fastcasual” dining concept where customers come in, place their order and it’s filled quickly and brought to the table for eat-in diners. There’s no wait staff, however.

“We’ll be using a concept that’s been mastered by many restaurants, such as Chipotle and Moe’s, where everything is fresh,” said Rahman. “Every single item that we serve here, vegetable-wise, comes in on daily deliveries. We don’t use any vegetable that comes in a can, aside from olives. I’m one of those individuals who take pride in what they serve. Every single item that I serve here, I want to make sure that I serve it as I was serving it to myself.”

In the future, Indian and Lebanese food will be added to the menu for even greater variety.

“I want it to be a place where people come in, say it’s five or seven people, that they have difference choices of what to have; that they’re not stuck having the same thing,” said Rahman.

He noted that no longer being connected to a corporate entity, like Kwik Stop, has eliminated the discounted cost for goods that was part of the corporation’s purchasing arrangements with suppliers, but he does his best to keep prices for things such as beer, low.

“Somehow we must get people to understand that I’ve come out of the convenience store concept and the convenience store price-point, like a 7-Eleven might do,” said Rahman. “I’m not that. What I am is all about quality of the food. My focus is all about the food.”

He acknowledged that the pizza market on Marco is highly competitive and he tipped his hat to the other restaurants. Some people even questioned the wisdom of joining the fray, he added.

“People initially laughed at me for wanting to do pizza,” said Rahman. “They’d say, ‘Why do you want to do pizza? Don’t you understand? You’re not white. You’re not Italian. Why would you even want to do that?’ I said, ‘You know what, I think life is a challenge, so I’ll take that as a challenge. Let me see if I can prove myself, if I can offer some good quality and quantity, and God has been kind.’ That’s why I’m here seven days a week, to make sure that everything that comes out of the oven is perfect.”

Sami’s Pizza and Grill is located at 227 N. Collier Boulevard, Marco Island. The hours are 11 AM – 9 PM. For more information and to view the menu, visit samispizza.com. To reach Sami’s, call 239-389-7499.

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