‘My father’s wish was to make food affordable for everyone so no one has to go to bed on an empty stomach’
It’s easy to drive past Al Ashiyah Cafeteria on Sharjah’s Al Sharq street in the busy Bu Tina area without even batting an eyelid. If hole-in-the-wall had a name and an address, then this would be it. There’s nothing spectacular about the decrepit ground-floor eatery with a kitchen chock-full of all the grub ready to be cooked and a dining hall big enough for just about eight with today’s Covid rules in place – partitioned by a wall with an open window to greet guests. The yellow signboard at the top of the entrance that once shone bright has also lost all its lustre over the years. But step inside and you get a whiff of the little legacy that Hafeez-Ur-Rehman has been closely guarding for over a decade now – the smell of freshly fried beef chapli kebabs, all for Dh5.
“My customers are satisfied and that gives me happiness. What more can I ask for?” says the 36-year-old, who now runs the small restaurant his father started some 24 years ago.
“Back in 1996 when I began helping my father, there was nothing special around here except for a few villas in this area. But more than the local residents, we catered to taxi drivers, who would usually stop for a quick bite on their way to picking up or dropping off customers. Happy taxi drivers then began taking our story far and wide, eventually making us famous even in other emirates,” adds Hafeez, who claims that his kebabs have even crossed over to countries as far as Canada, the UK and India.
“My father’s wish was to make food affordable for everyone so no one has to go to bed on an empty stomach. Even if ingredients have become costlier, the price of our kebabs has largely remained unchanged,” he says, reminiscing how in 1996, a kebab was sold for Dh3 before the price was marked up by a dirham to Dh4 in 2007 and then to Dh5 in 2017.
“It has remained that way for the last three years or so,” he adds with a chuckle.
So what is the secret of his success story?
“We want to offer clean and healthy food for our customers. We make all the food in front of the customers. Every customer that’s had a kebab here has gone back happy and with more kebabs for the families,” he concedes while talking about the recipe that boasts of fresh ground beef, red chillies from India and spices from Pakistan. “That makes it a unique India-Pakistan story, too,” he adds with a grin that sends some warmth you may not find in a restaurant with one or more Michelin stars.
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