Ali Dhanani – HAZA Group
Whether customers call it fast food or good food quickly—#Seinfeld reference—the mission and goal for Ali Dhanani and the employees of his company is the same: is to ensure that each guest receives prompt, professional and friendly service.
“Our employees and our customers are the cornerstones of the business,” says Dhanani, the owner, president and CEO of HAZA Group, a restaurant group that owns more than 500 Wendy’s and Taco Bell locations.
But having a strong culture can only take you so far, Dhanani says, especially in the current economic and health climate in this country.
In cities and towns across the country, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, storefronts of all shapes and sizes and industries are filled with hiring or help wanted signs. Dhanani says that’s the way it is at HAZA Foods’ Wendy’s and HAZA Bell’s Taco Bell locations in Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nebraska, Iowa, New York and Ohio.
“Getting and then retaining top talent has been, and continues to be, a challenge for everyone in our industry,” Dhanani says. “Expanding into more markets will expand our employee pool and give us the opportunity to bring more people into the company.”
Focusing on people
In the food service business, having a competent, friendly staff is as important as the food you provide, Dhanani says, which is why the biggest focus is on the HAZA culture. Part of what drives a positive culture is communication between the leadership and the employees, Dhanani says. But other things, like remodeling current locations cleaning and maintaining locations, give team members a sense of pride, too.
“That reflects in the service our employees provide to our guests,” Dhanani says. “It creates a positive energy for everyone, and when our staff sees the business investing in them and their space, it allows them to enjoy work and stay a part of our team.”
Other things, like expanding the employee benefits programs and offering tuition reimbursements and scholarships, differentiate HAZA Group from similar companies in the industry, he says.
HAZA Foods was founded in 2013 when Dhanani acquired 34 Wendy’s stores in February and another 30 in December of that first year. By 2015, the company had acquired 19 more locations and completed seven new builds. In August 2016, HAZA Foods added 74 Wendy’s locations in Louisiana. Then, in November 2017, the company bought 53 Wendy’s spots in Minnesota. Now, the company is the largest Wendy’s franchisee in the world with 385 locations.
“We want to continue to expand into new locations and grow our business,” Dhanani says. In 2022, he says the company will add 15-20 units between both brands and will continue to do so every year.
HAZA Foods formed the HAZA Bell franchise with the acquisition of 25 Taco Bell locations in Nebraska in 2018. The portfolio grew in 2020 by 23 locations, including several in Iowa. In 2021, HAZA Bell purchased 82 restaurants in the Northeast, and the accompanying goal to continued growth “is to keep supporting the HAZA Foods employees in every location,” Dhanani says.
One of the things Dhanani wanted to ensure when he founded HAZA Foods is that the company supported local communities. Whether that meant sponsoring a little league team, providing free food at some community event, or partnering a nonprofit organization, the mission was always the same.
“Being in the people business, we always want to take care of our employees, customers, and our communities. We strive to strengthen our communities and focus on local outreach,” Dhanani says. “We like to get the community involved in our restaurants because they are our biggest supporters.”
HAZA Foods in Houston helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sugar Land Cowboys football team by passing out merchandise and candy while selling Dave’s Lemonade and cookies.
A new Wendy’s opened in the heart of Round Rock, Texas, in August 2021, and the company participated in the Taste of Round Rock event that provided an opportunity to highlight the breakfast menu and build relationships with the people of Round Rock.
Dhanani says the company regularly shares stories about employees that go above and beyond standard operations, calling them HAZA Heroes. Working with schools and honoring teachers and service members is also a big part of what HAZA Foods does in each community it serves. HAZA Foods also continues to support the Houston Fire Department, including helping with its Operation Stocking Stuffers over the holidays.
View this feature in the Terra Firma Vol I 2022 Edition here.
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