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The American Dream of Owning Your Own Business

The American Dream of Owning Your Own Business

Going from a structural engineer to owning multiple event centers, was not in the plans for Raj Shafaii, but no one can predict the future.  Raj was born in Iran and after graduating from high school, his father thought it best for him, to continue his education in the United States.  At barely 18 years of age and with little English speaking ability, Raj left Iran headed for the US in 1975.

After graduating from the University of Texas-Austin, with a degree in structural engineering and marring his wife Norma, Raj began working for an engineering firm.  He only worked for the firm, for three years, before finding himself unemployed, due to the countries oil and gas recession.  In a need to provide for his family, he began to sell Chinese handmade tablecloths that his uncle would send from Dubai.  When the demand, for the tablecloths died, Raj and Norma, were again looking for ways to feed the family.  With an empty building (used to store the tablecloths) people began to ask if they could use the facility for events.  Raj had never thought about that before, so he decided to research that business.

In 1995, the family opened their first event center, which was a converted warehouse, on the Houston East End Area.  As the business began to grow, Raj decided to seek out the services of the San Jacinto College Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Deer Park, TX.  He sought out their help to write and submit a proposal, for the historic Sylvan Beach Pavilion.  Writing a proposal was new to him, he had never done this, nor had he dealt with county government before.  After months of classes, meetings and spending endless hours with the SBDC, he was awarded the contract.  The Shafaii family said, “Without the involvement of the SBDC, we would not be sitting here”.

They now own five centers, in three different locations, that employee 50 plus people.  Because event centers can be a seasonal business and the competition is consistently growing, they have found the need to diversify, so they have increased the services they provide.  Not only do they rent the facility, they provide catering services, decorations, video and photography services, along with limousines and DJ services.  The family also tries to stay busy in the community by volunteering and hosting charitable events.  “If you are looking to start your own business”, Raj says, “Research and talk with other owners in that business”, he also states, “Business owners are their own greatest asset and next are the employees, they are like your extended family”.

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