Manifesting the belief that food is the best way to start any conversation, Adnan Bin-Mahfouz walked away from his business development career to become a chef and private business owner. His new work uses food to breakdown language barriers by bridging cultural gaps, and creating an environment for meaningful social exchanges in Milwaukee.
Q&A with Adnan Bin-Mahfouz
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: Who was the most influential person during your youth, and how did that impact your life as an adult?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: My mother was and always will be my hero. She managed to raise seven boys and go back to school at the age of twenty-seven. She challenged herself to show everyone that it is never too late to go back to school. Since she was an immigrant who moved from India to Saudi Arabia at the age of sixteen, she had to restart her education. That meant she had to begin her education again, because Arabic was not her native language.
She started attending night school from first to ninth grade. A high school program was not available at that time for older students, so she joined regular school with students who were the same age as her children. My three older brothers were in high school. Three years later my hero graduated high school with honors.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What was your neighborhood like growing up, and did you experience a culture shock when you moved to America?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: I grew up in a simple neighborhood where everyone knew everyone — where neighbors shared their lunch or dinner. I was very shocked to see the size of the cities in America, along with the heavy traffic, different religions, and different backgrounds of people It is truly a melting pot.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: How did you end up in Wisconsin, and since you visit so many other places why do you stay in Milwaukee and not relocate?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: I relocated from Michigan to Wisconsin in 2000 due to my work. With the wonderful people here in Wisconsin and the strong family bond with my wife’s family, it was an easy decision for me to stay here.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: Where did your love for food develop, and how did that become a passion for cooking?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: Though I have seven brothers, I never had a sister. In most families that meant we were quickly married to take care of the different tasks my mother did around the house. However, my mother was a visionary. She made sure that all of us had basic house skills down, including cleaning, sewing, and cooking. I liked cooking from a young age. Unfortunately, in the 1980s, culinary schools and cooking programs were not available in Saudi.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: When you travel to other countries, what do you look for when trying local food for the first time?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: Original, authentic dishes cooked with fresh ingredients.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What do you enjoy most about trying a new type of cuisine for the first time?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: I enjoy seeing how the human mind works in different areas of the world – where one item used as a main dish in one part of the world can be use as dessert in another part.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: Do you see a universal language to food, in how people communicate and share their culture, and are there any dishes that you think are misunderstood?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: In my previous field – and in our religion of Islam – we have been taught that food is the best way to start any conversation. In that way, yes, it is universal language. Yet, even in this language sometimes there can be a language barrier. We chefs have a great responsibility to bridge these gaps through something that everyone can enjoy but may not be willing to try. I believe that it’s a cooking show on the Food Channel where the show host says, “If it looks good eat it.” Some dishes are misunderstood due to the way they are presented or because the main ingredient is new to the consumer. My motto is: “Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.” To make everyone follow that motto, we try to make our food presentable and desirable. Eating what looks, smells, and tastes good is a language that everyone speaks.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What has been your greatest joy as a father, and is there a lesson about food you teach to your family?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: My greatest joy as a father has been my kids calling me “dad.” When anyone of them calls me “dad,” I feel that I am the king of the world. My lesson to my kids has always been to eat fresh and to try any food at least once, as you will never know what you are missing.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: How has your faith played a role in your cooking?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: Being a Muslim in a non-Muslim country has been a challenge, as I must look for halal ingredients all the time. Surprisingly, this search helped discover new items and find different ways to make different kinds of food.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What was the transition like going from employee to business owner?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: It has been interesting, and it will continue being a challenge. For example, I cannot call in sick, because I am the center of the business. But the satisfaction of knowing it’s my business and I get to share the fruits of my labor with everyone is priceless.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: Where did you get the idea to combine so many different kinds of food for your menu, and why is it important to do them all so well?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: Solving a challenge in any industry we will keep anyone busy. When I travelled the world I always had my meals in a group, and the main challenge has always been where to go and what to get. Everyone always wanted something different. Knowing that these two questions are the most important part of a decision, this gave me the idea of solving problem by providing multiple cuisines under one roof. We have a business for everyday life.
Making a positive first impression is essential. Mastering all these top dishes of each cuisine, I hope, will show customers that not only we are great restaurant, but we are also great chefs. If they see how seriously we have taken their meals and their happiness, we hope this will make them trust us even more.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What are you future business plans in the area? And how has your family support influenced this?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: We are excited to offer our concept to those who are interested in expanding this franchise, but what we are most excited about is our soon-to-arrive food trucks.
I could not move one step ahead in this project without my life partner and my motivation, my wife. She has been the main asset to our business, as she contributes to all parts of the business – those that you can see and those that you cannot see.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What is your hope for the future of the Arab and Muslim communities in Milwaukee?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: I hope to see more restaurants and businesses started in our Muslim community that brings about new and unique concepts aiming to solve problems for our Muslim community and the American society at-large.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: If you were stuck on a desert island with a lifetime supply of only one type of food, what would it be, and why?
Adnan Bin-Mahfouz: I love our wings. I eat on average of fifty to sixty wings per week with our homemade sauces. Nothing like a chicken wing that is crispy from the outside, yet juicy on inside, while being topped with our homemade BBQ sauce… O Yeah.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal