"If it will work here, it will work anywhere."
That's what restaurateur Sam Abbas says about Dearborn's downtown districts. He believes that the city's diversity of businesses, customers, and residents make it the ideal testing ground for entrepreneurs.
While Dearborn is home to some of the biggest companies, like Ford Motor Company and Carhartt, the small mom-and-pop businesses also help drive the local economy. The city has college students and business executives, school teachers, and manufacturing workers. Its cultural diversity, too, proves as good a barometer as any.
For these reasons and more--he also says he missed the place where he was born and raised, and that genuine Midwest spirit--Abbas returned from a stint in Arizona, bringing his first business back to Michigan and eventually starting another one.
Sam Abbas founded Yogurtopia, a frozen yogurt and more shop that has expanded with multiple locations across Metro Detroit, and Brome Burgers & Shakes, a fresh and organic fast casual hamburger restaurant.
He's not only guided those businesses through periods of growth and additional locations but was also invited to be a member of the Board of Directors of the West Downtown Dearborn Development Authority, where he serves as the Chairperson of the Promotions and Organizations Committee.
"Dearborn is a place where a business can start, and you can grow from here," says Abbas. "It's kind of like an incubator."
Abbas left Dearborn to complete an MBA from Arizona State University, opening his first Yogurtopia there in Arizona. He learned a lot from running his first Yogurtopia locations, something that prepared him for life back in Michigan. He saw a lot of potential in his hometown and moved back, opening Yogurtopias in Dearborn and its neighboring communities.
Sensing an opportunity for a local hamburger restaurant that focused on fresh, organic ingredients with items made in-house and from scratch, Abbas came up with the Brome Burgers and Shakes concept. A fast success since opening in October 2015, he's already planning a second location. Brome Burgers & Shakes is scheduled to open a location in downtown Detroit's financial district sometime mid-year 2017.
Abbas credits the success of Brome to the lessons learned from Yogurtopia.
"I had always wanted to go into the restaurant business, and I wanted to get my feet wet," he says. "It's a very, very challenging business. You want experience. Yogurtopia allowed me to get that and expand into Brome Burgers."
Not only does Abbas believe Dearborn to be the ideal testing grounds for a new business, but he also views it as a hidden gem. He says that other downtowns in Metro Detroit don't have what Dearborn has, with its museums, big-time employers, and the new John D. Dingell Transit Center. It's on the verge of becoming the new hip downtown of the region, he says, with cool developments, funky architecture, and great restaurants.
Still, for all of the growth his businesses are experiencing, that doesn't mean it's time for Abbas to kick back and relax. There's always work to be done and lessons to be learned.
"It never gets easier. You think you master one thing but the restaurant business is always challenging," he says. "There are all these different personalities to handle, from the line cooks to the vendors. And as a business owner, you have to wear all the different hats."
"In the restaurant business, you don't own your time. Time owns you."
Name and title: Sam Abbas, Owner
Years Yogurtopia and Brome Burgers opened: 2013 Yogurtopia and 2015 Brome
One interesting job you had before running your restaurants: Business project manager for Cigna Healthcare
What's the best thing about running a restaurant: Seeing a satisfied customer
What's your favorite hamburger: The Mex (Corn Salsa, Cheddar-Jack Cheese Sauce, Pickled Jalapeno, Avocado, Chipotle Mayo) is heavenly