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The Real Story of Sam Mustafa, Charleston Restaurateur
The Start of a Big Journey
Sam Mustafa’s entrepreneurial journey is a unique one. Although he may not have taken the most conventional path, his story is a reminder that there are many ways to find passion and success, but some roads may have more twists and turns. Now Founder and CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group, award-winning Sam continues to find success even when the odds are stacked against him.
At 19, Sam was failing out of Southern Illinois University, shocking and disappointing his father back home in Jordan. At this point, his father told him that he could either come back home or find a way to support himself while he was finishing school. Sam made the decision to stay in America with ease, but soon realized that the actual support of himself was much more difficult than he had anticipated.
To provide for himself, Sam began to work jobs at McDonald’s, then Domino’s Pizza, and A&W Hot Dog & More, and the student center. In a period of five months, he was able to save up money, but also learn that he was not interested in working under someone else. This realization that he was interested in the restaurant business, but interested in doing it his way allowed Sam to clearly see the next step was opening his own restaurant. With the money he saved up, Sam started with a falafel cart business (Phenomenal Falafel) across the street from what would eventually become his first brick and mortar location, Sam’s Cafe.
After countless hours of sleepless nights, Sam was ready to put his restaurant expertise to use. The beginning of Sam’s restaurant career started in the small town of Carbondale, Illinois. The space Sam decided to rent out was quite small but was big enough to be the home of Sam’s first restaurant: Sam’s Cafe. With a few hundred dollars in his bank account and having recently just sold his only car, a Toyota Corolla SR5 for $2800. Sam decided to hire former inmate James Young as his first employee. Sam had faith in his skills and knew that he deserved another chance.
Sam has always been somebody who likes to take chances even when the outcome is uncertain. James was flourishing, but unfortunately, Sam’s Cafe was doing the opposite. His customers began to lessen and his worries began to heighten. Sam knew he had to do something to bring his cafe back to life. At the time, Sam had barely enough money to pay his restaurant’s rent. This is when Sam decided to purchase an $800 ad in the weekly student newspaper. Sam was hesitant to purchase this ad as it was going to cost him nearly all of his money. Little did Sam know, this advertisement would end up being the turning point in his career.
Life After Sam’s Cafe
Sam’s Cafe began to flourish, and Sam was ecstatic. Although he was extremely pleased with the incline in business from his cafe, he was ready to take another leap of faith. His journey to success really took off when he began purchasing smaller restaurants and revamping them. After renovating dozens of restaurants, Sam was ready to start his next vision.
Charleston, South Carolina would be the place where Sam’s career would take off. After visiting Charleston for the first time on vacation, Sam immediately fell in love. The vibrant atmosphere, the beautiful weather, and most importantly the incredible culinary scene was what appealed to Sam. After touring the city with his girlfriend at the time, the thought of going back to frigid Illinois quickly became less appealing.
This is when Sam decided to pull the trigger and take another risk by moving to Charleston. Sam’s first few months in Charleston were far from glamorous. He spent countless hours working at Arby’s in North Charleston and selling insurance on the side to make ends meet. Although there were times where Sam felt hopeless, he often thought back to his success of Sam’s Cafe. Sam wanted to create something similar to his Carbondale restaurant but with a southern flare. The idea of a diner style restaurant that served delicious southern cuisine seemed to be exactly what the Holy City was missing. Sam decided to take another risk and put his money towards opening a restaurant of his own: Toast!
The Evolution of Charleston Hospitality Group
In January of 2005, Sam celebrated the grand opening of Toast. Charlestonians were loving his restaurant concept. Every weekend, families, couples, and even tourists would wait in line for a table at Toast. After seeing how successful Toast was, Sam had a realization: the Charleston culinary scene was lacking. Sam took this opportunity to open more restaurants in downtown Charleston.
Sam began planning restaurant concepts that he believed were missing in Charleston.
This is when Sam decided to establish his own hospitality business: Charleston Hospitality Group.
In 2008, Charleston Hospitality Group (CHG) was born. CHG is home to nearly a dozen bars and restaurants in the Charleston area. Sam and the CHG team put forth their best effort to ensure that Charleston’s visitors and residents have access to endless options for exceptional dining, unforgettable travel, and sizzling nightlife that fits their mood:
Eli’s Table, a high-end southern restaurant, became one of Sam’s most reputable restaurants. Following Eli’s Table, Sam launched Queology, a down and dirty barbeque joint with some of the best wings on the peninsula. Following Queology, Sam opened a handful of other restaurants including but not limited to Tabullis, John King Bar and Grill, and Honky Tonk Saloon. Sam’s restaurants quickly became a culinary empire.
With Charleston Hospitality Group evolving into a multi-million dollar culinary empire, Sam is committed to giving back. Sam has always been passionate about helping those who are in a position that he was once in and ensures that his company gives back to the Charleston Community. In the past, the CHG team has worked with the Dorchester 2 Educational Foundation, Invisible Illness, College of Charleston Bonner Program, Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, among others, and is an annual sponsor for one of Charleston’s biggest fundraisers, the Lowcountry Oyster Festival.
Although CHG has loved working with these charities over the years, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, their team knew that they could help in an even bigger way. In March of 2020, the CHG team launched their very own charitable initiative: Full Belly, Full Hearts (FBFH). The FBFH initiative aims to provide overworked hospitality, healthcare, and other frontline workers with hot meals for no cost.
Sam plans to continue and grow this initiative in the upcoming years.
Where is Sam Mustafa at Now?
Having recently been named one of the top 100 most influential CEOs in the country by Nation’s Restaurant News and having been presented the Patriot Award from the Secretary of Defense, Sam’s journey has been far from traditional. As a young man from Jordan, Sam often thinks back to the life he once lived. From Sam’s Cafe, to his hospitality empire, Sam is grateful of the success he has made for himself over the last couple of decades.
Today, Sam resides in Charleston with another residence in Miami Beach, FL. Sam and the rest of the CHG team has successfully launched their most popular restaurant concept: Toast! All Day as a national franchise with new corporate locations coming in Miami & Miami Beach, FL, and Savannah, GA. Sam is committed to bringing their charitable initiative to each city they expand into after seeing how many lives it has helped in Charleston.
Sam Mustafa, Charleston In The News
Sam Mustafa, CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group discusses his experience franchising his Toast All Day restaurant concept during the height of the global pandemic. This blog commemorates Toast All Day as an official nationwide franchise.Cheers, ya’ll! Toast All Day has been an official nationwide franchise for over ONE YEAR!Our CEO, Sam Mustafa Speaks On Restaurant Success During The Pandemic:“I never found success by claiming to be ‘the best restaurant,’ Sam Mustafa, CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group said. “My restaurants are a place where people come to tell others about a personal success and have other people who are happy to celebrate with them. Toast All Day is about being a place where everybody feels like somebody.”
Sam Mustafa, CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group shares his experience dealing with the shortage of food and beverage workers in the Charleston area and his strategy as the holiday season is approaching.As we continue to resume pre-pandemic activities such as gathering, traveling and indoor dining, our restaurants at Charleston Hospitality Group have faced head-on the challenges that come with getting back to “normal”. This includes adjusting to the new local and national laws as it relates to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now as the holiday season is approaching, it is critical to have a diversified plan in place to satisfy all guests and retain the morale of your employees.
Sam Mustafa, CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group shares his perspective on what he believes to be the number one reason for restaurants failures- location. Read further to gain insight on his personal experience and how he carefully and cautiously chooses restaurant locations for his Toast All Day Franchise and Charleston Hospitality Group Restaurants.
Sam Mustafa, CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group shares his insight on how to establish an effective restaurant growth strategy in the height of the pandemic and many restaurant closures. While many restaurants were failing, the pandemic brought Charleston Hospitality Group to unexpected success, with the nationwide expansion of their Toast All Day concept. If you’re considering expansion, this is the time to reflect and ask yourself, “Are you ready to expand? Is your strategy prepared for the post-pandemic growth fueled by new consumer trends and innovations in technology?”
Sam Mustafa, CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group shares his insight on the importance of having a diversified online marketing strategy. This topic highlights the recent blackouts of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp and the effect of marketing specifically in the restaurant industry.SOCIAL SHUTDOWN: Turning Anxiety Into a New Diversified Marketing Strategy
Sam Mustafa, CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group shares his passion for all things health and wellness. This blog discusses how setting an example in the workplace through health prioritization and core values translates into more productivity and engagement. These concepts come full cycle to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Being the CEO and Founder of Charleston Hospitality Group comprising over 15 restaurants and 6 restaurant brands across the nation, you can imagine that the work keeps on coming! Since establishing Charleston Hospitality Group over 20 years ago, I have become the man who wears many hats and have groomed a workforce that works equally as hard to surpass all quarterly and yearly goals. Being in the industry of food and beverage, there are no two days that are the same. Each day is a new opportunity to better myself, my business and empower those around me, both my employees and within the community.