It’s been a long time since Rashid Khalaf lived in Jerusalem, where he was born. But for the past four years, Khalaf has been bringing the tastes and aromas of that past to his Overland Park establishment, Shahrazad Café & Market. Khalaf describes his cafe’s food as mixing the flavors of the Middle East, Turkey, the Mediterranean and historical Persia.
“I wanted to stay simple,” said Khalaf of the care menu, “but there are the main things that people ask for — hummus, falafel, lamb and taboule.”
The market and cafe have separate entrances but operate in a common space with easy access to both.
“It makes it convenient and helps the business,” Khalaf said.
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The market and cafe are open seven days a week; a buffet lunch is offered on weekdays. The market offers fresh vegetables each Wednesday and Halal meats on Thursday. Halal is a designation given to meats that are permitted under Islamic guidelines.
Q: What is your background in the food industry?
Khalaf first came to the United States from Kuwait in 1981. He liked the states so much that Khalaf stayed with a cousin in the Washington area. A visit to Kansas City to see a friend from Kuwait changed the situation from a temporary stay for Khalaf.
“I told my mom it would only be for four years, but I never came back to live there,” he said. “The only thing I don’t like is the cold weather.”
Khalaf’s first jobs were in the grocery business and later at restaurants including the Athena where he served as cook. There were also stints at Jerusalem Café and another restaurant on Bannister Road.
After talking with friends and customers, Khalaf decided to try his hand at owning and operating a combination market and café.
“As you get older you want to invest for the family and kids,” he said.
Q: What did you do to put together your busines?
Khalaf researched his idea by traveling to other cities such as Chicago and Detroit, talking with vendors about supplies, menus and other details. It took a year of planning before Khalaf and a friend put their funds together to open Shahrazad.
“We planned to open the both of them, but the restaurant took a little longer,” Khalaf said.
Though a first-time business owner, Khalaf felt confident that his experience in the food industry would help him overcome hurdles.
“Even though you do it for the first time from scratch … I had an idea of what people wanted,” he said. “It took me six months to decide what to name the place, one that really fit that didn’t alter letters. … It’s like a Persian name, but it had to do with Arabic literature and something I could tell some interesting stories about and a lot of people are familiar with.”
Q: Why did you choose your location?
Prospective customers urged Khalaf to open in Overland Park.
“There are a lot of people out there who are Persian, Pakistani and from other Middle Eastern countries and those who wanted kosher food or Middle Eastern food,” he said.
Khalaf had given some thought to locating in Olathe, “but Overland Park has a little more international people,” he said. Khalaf also liked the West 127th and Metcalf location’s proximity to area highways for easy customer access. He said the location has allowed his business to continue growing.
“Little by little I built a lot of Turkish and Iranian customers, too,” he said.
“I have a lot of Jewish people who come in and a lot of Indians who work over at Sprint, and I do get people who like Halal meat — the Muslim people. And we have Americans who come in get gyros.”
Q: How are the operations set up?
Khalaf is involved in every aspect of Shahrazad’s operation.
“I do custom chicken, meat and poultry — I like cooking. I do the restaurant and managing of the store, and I have a member of the family who helps as a waitress.”
In the beginning, Khalaf had seafood dishes on the menu but said they did not do well, so he took them off. He also thought about putting in his own bakery.
“When I was planning the business I was planning to open a bakery but after I looked at it, it was too much work,” he said. “If it was just a bakery I would be bored. … But the plan is still there.”
Khalaf likes doing lots of different things at Shahrazad.
“I never get bored,” he said.
Q: What does your inventory include and where does it come from?
Shahrazad’s market offers prepackaged sweets, canned foods from overseas, and various dairy items. Baked goods come from several local suppliers.
“We do a lot of business with Chicago and California,” Khalaf said.
The business does little outside advertising other than occasional direct mail coupons and an advertisement through the local Islamic calendar.
“We have an active Facebook,” said Khalaf, along with a website that includes the menu and market items.
Q: What challenges you in running Shahrazad?
“The financial things — the expenses,” Khalaf said. “Sometimes expenses come from nowhere. You have to fix things and you have to keep prices as low as you can to keep up with competition.”
It is a hectic life for Khalaf, but one he seems to enjoy: “I have nice clients and I try to make sure they are happy and that they come back. We try to give them the best service.”
Khalaf considers himself a people person and Shahrazad allows him to mix and mingle.
“I meet different cultures and people, and I like that,” he said.
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Shahrazad Café & Market
ADDRESS: 12607 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park
Web site: www.shahrazadcafe.com