Sam Mustafa Charleston Hospitality Group featured on Authority Magazine
We all know that the Charleston Hospitality Group produces outstanding restaurants with the highest quality of food in the south. The restaurants include Toast! All Day, Eli’s Table, Queology, Tabbuli, HonkyTonk Saloon, and JK Grill & Bar. From endless menus, to one of a kind cocktails, and live entertainment, there isn’t anything you can’t get at one of Charleston Hospitality Group’s restaurants. What about the brains and creator of it all? That would be Sam Mustafa. Sam is the CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group and has a passion for this industry. Authority Magazine just recently interviewed Sam as part of their series of immigrant success stories where Sam shared his experiences he’s had throughout his life. Check out the story below.
Sam Mustafa of Charleston Hospitality Group: I Am Living Proof Of The American Dream
An Interview With Vicky Colas
“Be humble and show gratitude. I have never lost sight of where I came from and I try to use that frame of mind in dealing with the people I encounter everyday, from employees to colleagues. I may be the CEO, but I also sweep floors when the situation calls for it. I have some employees who started with me in 2005 from humble beginnings and are now holding executive level positions. Our Vice President, Christina Tsang, came to us from a temp agency and now she’s my right hand.”
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Mustafa.
Sam Mustafa is a Charleston-based business owner and entrepreneur. He has invested himself in the area, and every effort he makes is geared towards improving the community. Over the course of just a few years, he has bought several empty buildings in the area. He quickly turns these vacant buildings into award winning restaurants. It is hard to travel the streets of downtown Charleston and not see one of his restaurants. Today, Sam Mustafa is the CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group. He has constructed a business that is good for employers, employees, residents and visitors of Charleston. His efforts increase the area’s value day by day.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you, it’s my pleasure to be here. My parents were poor, they emigrated to Kuwait where I grew up as the oldest of 5 brothers.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
At 17, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into South Indiana University for Engineering, and I was looking to make a better life for myself and my family in the United States.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
It was a definite culture shock, of course. All I knew of the US at the time was from what I had seen on television. The US seemed like a fun party all the time; a paradise where anything was possible. I found out that was not all true. During my time in college I worked four different jobs, mostly in fast food and at the student center at the university. I worked 20 hour days to make ends meet and during that time I would take any job I could find in the food or hospitality industry.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
In 1992, after working my way through various restaurants and starting my own small food cart venture, I was able to put just enough money down on my first restaurant, Sam’s Cafe. I hired my first employee, James Young. He has been in prison for a petty crime and I felt like his situation was like mine, he just needed a chance at a job and someone to believe in him. James was with me for over 12 years and I am very grateful for his support in helping me launch my first business.
So how are things going today?
Today, my company, Charleston Hospitality Group, employs over 400 people in the Charleston, Savannah and Miami areas. We recently launched our TOAST! All Day concept as a national franchise and there are 100 more locations expected to open within the next 5 years. Charleston Hospitality Group has “something for everyone,” with our offerings of casual fine dining at Eli’s Table (named after my son) to award winning BBQ at Queology and even a dueling piano bar called JohnKing Grill right in the heart of downtown Charleston.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As you know, the pandemic hit our industry pretty hard in 2020 and I was faced with the decision of having to lay off over 350 employees. It was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. During those first few days of lockdown, I felt there had to be some way to help laid-off hospitality workers and others who were struggling because of the pandemic. I came up with our Full Belly, Full Hearts charitable campaign as a result. Through this initiative we were able to coordinate with food vendors and sponsors to give away free hot meals to anyone displaced by pandemic lockdowns, no questions asked. We served over 10,000 meals during the lockdown to f&b workers, first responders, health care providers and more. We’ve since expanded this initiative to benefit other causes, like raising money through the sale of cocktails at our Toast All Day locations for Cancer Research at MUSC’s Hollings Cancer Institute.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
While I love the U.S. and am grateful to have become a citizen here, there are some things about the Immigration System that I feel need addressing. Speaking from my own experience, I feel that not everyone should be treated in a ‘one size fits all’ manner. There are genuine hard working immigrants who I feel will benefit the American way of life and I think special consideration should be given to them during the vetting process. I also feel that the vetting process is unnecessarily cumbersome and lengthy, on purpose. The path to citizenship shouldn’t take as long as it does for those who are hard working and genuinely desire to be a part of our great nation.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
There is no magic answer to achieving the American Dream. However I feel that there are certain attributes that have helped me succeed.
1.) Work hard. Hard work doesn’t necessarily lead to success, but I have NEVER regretted the work I put in regardless of the results. I still work long days, sometimes 20 hours to make sure the job is done at the end of the day. It gives me a sense of accomplishment each and every morning to face the new day ahead.
2.) Discipline,Patience & Perseverance, I feel these go hand in hand. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Putting short term pleasure before long term goals is a sure way NOT to achieve your dreams. Be steady in your approach and patient in your expectations. Though I had early success with my first business in 1992, I didn’t even form my first company until 2008 after many other restaurant openings and closings. Here we are in 2021 and I am still constantly evolving our concepts and aspirations into the next decade.
3.) Be humble and show gratitude. I have never lost sight of where I came from and I try to use that frame of mind in dealing with the people I encounter everyday, from employees to colleagues. I may be the CEO, but I also sweep floors when the situation calls for it. I have some employees who started with me in 2005 from humble beginnings and are now holding executive level positions. Our Vice President, Christina Tsang, came to us from a temp agency and now she’s my right hand.
4.) You are the sum of the people you surround yourself with. I find people who in their lives are constantly in the path of trouble, surround themselves with others who are conducive of that behavior. If you want to improve your life and your outlook, find those who are supportive in a positive way, and are also like-minded visionaries.
5.) Consistency. One has to have consistency in your personal life as well as your business life. Whether it be a daily routine, or how you approach your end work results, people who are consistent are usually highly successful. Success is a process, not a destination.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
The U.S. is still the best country in the world. Where else in the world has this much opportunity? There is so much potential here, mainly because of the people. The American people are determined and resilient. We are always trying to make something better, stronger, faster, bigger, less expensive….it’s a constant march forward to be the best and that’s why I am optimistic about our future. We never quit!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
This may sound funny, but I would love to have breakfast with Pitbull! I am fascinated by his life, coming from humble backgrounds to become a philanthropist, entertainer, promoter…you name it! I admire his tenacity and drive and feel a kinship to that.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
If you would like to follow my journey and my company, visit us at CharlestonHospitalityGroup.com and click on my blog (under CEO) or follow my adventures on Instagram and Twitter– where I’m living the dream!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!