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Executive Suite: Fast food franchisee Al Raza

Al Raza visits his Checkers store Monday, Jan.

Al Raza visits his Checkers store Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in the Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore. Credit: Johnny Milano

One could call them fast food franchise brothers. Dr. Al Raza and his brother, Kamal, have launched five Taco Bells, two Pizza Huts, and recently opened their first Checkers at Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore. They are scouting locations and plan to open five more Checkers by the end of 2016, including two more on Long Island.

To Al Raza, 43, it's about return on investment, interacting with his customers and offering food with "big flavors." He says Checkers stores tend to pay for themselves within five years, and they entice an interesting and diverse customer base.

Originally from Pakistan, Raza's father had a stitching factory in Santa Ana, Calif., where Raza worked early on. He earned his medical degree in St. Lucia, but developed severe myopia and couldn't practice in the United States. Lured by the American franchise system, he and his brother opened their first Taco Bell in Bay Shore in 1997.

Any advice for new entrepreneurs?

We should do what we enjoy doing. I've seen folks who have a struggle because when they go to their restaurant on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday they find it as a punishment. When I go to my restaurant on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I enjoy it because the volume is much more than weekdays. My advice is, understand the industry they want to go into . . . and see if they will be able to enjoy it.

Is the return on investment higher on Checkers than it is on Taco Bell?

Very high, very high, and the reason is the investment is smaller compared to other brands such as Burger King or Wendy's.

How do the parent companies like Checkers feel about you owning franchises in multiple chains?

I cannot speak on their behalf, but I believe Checkers responded in our favor because they [now] have a partner who's already business savvy of that industry . . . My track record with the other franchiser was great.

How will the recent increase in New York State's minimum wage affect you?

It is definitely a factor, but at the same time it helps our employees' living standard and their lifestyle. [Checkers' focus is to keep the franchisee profitable] by bringing up newer products or increasing the top line sales revenue. So the wage increase won't impact our bottom line . . . Checkers is doing a tremendous job marketing their new products to help us generate more revenue.

What are the new products?

Breakfast items, and they are working on new sandwiches constantly.

What was it that attracted you to the franchise business?

We deal with all ethnicities and every class. And we enjoy being with them, supporting them by providing jobs and also enjoying the bottom line profit.

Your employee turnover rate is much lower than the industry average. How do you hold onto your workers?

We give them growth opportunities and explain to them what the future looks like. We minimize [turnover] by finding the right person and then treating our team as our investment.


CORPORATE SNAPSHOT

Name:  Al Raza, vice president of SAF Gallaria Inc. in Bay Shore.

What it does: Franchise owners of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Checkers.

Employees: 38 full time, 36 part time.

Revenue: $2.5 million on Long Island; $5 million overall.

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