By Sarah Jameson Felder
GROWING UP IN KABUL, Afghanistan, and graduating from Kabul University with a degree in math and physics, Mohommed Moalikyar didn’t know anything about McDonald’s. Working as a professor in his homeland, Moalikyar had no idea he would one day own several McDonald’s restaurants in Indiana.
An invasion by Russia led to an unexpected change in Moalikyar’s life. Without any money, he left his country to come live with his brother in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1984. Moalikyar’s brother gave him $200 to help him get started in America.
The first job he took, ironically, was at Burger King. Moalikyar also held other jobs as he learned to navigate American society. He later moved to San Jose, California, and he and a friend opened a pizza restaurant, Pizza My Dear. He worked seven days a week without a vacation for several years. By this time, Moalikyar was married with one son. He and his wife barely saw each other. It was time for a change.
Indiana Minority Business Magazine: After owning a pizza place, why did you start working at McDonald’s?
Mohommed Moalikyar: My wife and I decided I should change my career. [After research], I applied for a job at McDonald’s and was blessed to work with such great bosses and coaches. McDonald’s is a great company. I love what they do for me. I learned so much from them.
You decided early on you wanted to be a franchise owner, but you didn’t have the money to immediately do so. How did you acquire the funds?
Moalikyar: They coached me on how to save money from my paycheck, participating in stock options, contributing to 401K … plus any way I can save. I don’t buy a lot of coffee every day. Put everything you can in the future. At that time, I had three sons and later on a daughter. [Our] goals are to make sure our children are educated and become a positive part of the community. Every month I purchased stock — one or two — and contributing to 401K. We tried to minimize our spending and cooking at home and things like that.
Patience and persistency are the foundations of my success. There are difficult times. I had no choice. That’s what you need to do: learn a lot, change a lot of behavior … to be a successful leader.
What is the cost of a McDonald’s franchise?
Moalikyar: You have to have … good experience and a minimum of 20-25% down payment and [good] credit. It depends on which restaurant you’re buying. It took me 26 years to build enough money for a down payment.
When and where did you open your first restaurant?
Moalikyar: I purchased a restaurant in Oakland, California, in April 2015. Then last year, I wanted to expand and also get my son in the program. We made a move to Indianapolis in 2018 [and] I bought two restaurants. I bought two in March 2018, the third one in August 2018 and the last one in January 2019. I sold the one in California.
Had you ever heard of Indianapolis, Indiana, before?
Moalikyar: No, actually I didn’t. We were looking to expand and our company mentioned that there were some opportunities in Indianapolis.
What are some of your triumphs?
Moalikyar: I think the biggest one was to make the move to Indianapolis — very challenging — but it is a big move for us. I could not have done it without my wife and kids supporting us. We came here. We didn’t know the community. We had to adapt to that. My focus is on people… It was hard to start a business in a place you don’t know a lot of people. We have to work together. The reason I love McDonald’s is the people part.
How do you retain good employees?
Moalikyar: I think it all comes down to how you treat your customer —internal and external. My philosophy in this business has always been a family business. In the family, you don’t treat your family wrong. You’re always trying to do the best for your family. I do a lot of things in my organizations to treat them right. That is the biggest part of my day when I walk in and see them smiling. We have created such a great culture in my business. … I always think of everybody who is a part of my organization as family. I go to every individual person and ask them how are they doing. That just makes my day when I do …We do a lot of things for our employees. I’m not perfect, yet we do celebrate Mother’s Day, every Thanksgiving we give something for them, every Christmas we give something for them. When I have time, I go by and wish them well. I ask them to eat healthy. These are small things that people really appreciate, that you have their best interest. I work side by side with them when they are shorthanded.