Friday, December 24, 2010

Business of the Week: Straw Hat Pizza's Owner Loves Customers, Community

Not your typical pizza franchise owner, the man behind the Straw Hat Pizza on Kiefer Boulevard is committed to his customers and to the community.

When most people think of Straw Hat Pizza, they think only of pizza, breadsticks and maybe even hot wings. But that's not so for some Rosemont residents who have come to know the Straw Hat Pizza on Kiefer Boulevard for more than just the food. A staple of the Rosemont community for about 20 years, the franchise pizza place is filled with good food and good memories for some.

Owner and operator Masoud Soudani, a native of Iran, had always dreamed about coming to America as a child. After obtaining a degree for refrigeration and air conditioning in India, opportunity knocked and, 28 years ago, Soudani moved to Sacramento, a city that he said was much like the one he was born in, and found a job as a dishwasher.

"When I came here, like other immigrants when they come here, they are stuck in pizza delivery and dishwashing and this and that, so I started that," he said. Soudani moved up into the ranks, becoming the owner of his own franchise about 10 years later. Putting his life into his work, Soudani hadn't had a chance to start a family until the age of 47, when his now 3-year-old son was born. He said he loves his job and loves putting smiles on his customers' faces.

"It's not about the money–I have the money," Soudani said. "It's about the love. When customers come in and I see the smile on their face, that is my tip. That is my money."

And Soudani has gained an extended family from his restaurant. He's been invited to the gatherings of many of his loyal customers, from birthday parties and marriages to funerals. The same day the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened, Soudani received an outpouring of support from his customers.

"They came here and said, 'not to worry, Masoud, if anybody comes here to bother you, just say nothing and get the license number of their car and we'll take care of them,'" he explained.

But Soudani is not just involved in his customers' lives—he's also involved in the Rosemont community as a whole. He lamented the fact that the community had changed, that it doesn't seem as strong as it once was.

"Community is family," he said. "And this family is not as strong as before. We have to make it as strong."

Soudani has decided to do his part and attend the next monthly Rosemont Community Association meeting to discuss things that could be done to make the community stronger. In the meantime, you can find him in the kitchen or behind the counter at Straw Hat Pizza, treating every customer who walks through the door like family.

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