Photo courtesy of Chu/Flickr.
Narrator: The story we are sharing today is about the impact that the age old wisdom of respecting your elders may have had on one man—so much so that he would become a millionaire by 35.
I’m Amina Chaudary and this is “That’s Some American Muslim Life.”
The person we’re talking about is a man named Tariq Farid who built a successful business based on one strong memory that lingered with him throughout his life.
Tariq Farid: When I was about 12 years old, the defining moment in my life was my parents were at a grocery store. My father, when we were in Pakistan was well known for bringing fruit home. My father was one of those people that would bring a case of fruit and we would all sit. He would take mangoes and throw them in to a big tub and put ice in it, let them cool down, and we will sit, laugh, and eat mangoes. As young kids, we would hide our mango and at the end rub it in the face of the other, and they would say, “Look, you got extra one. And I remember those watermelon, any fruit, my father was really good at that and he enjoyed fruit and he always and he made us enjoy fruit. We came to the U.S. and we’re at a grocery store, maybe I was 12, but I had just come to the U.S., and my mother sees mangos in a grocery store. She goes, “Farid, there’s mangoes.” And my father goes, “Oh,” he kind of acknowledges and they walked over to the mangoes and they were like a dollar each and my father goes to her and said, “Salma, they’re dollar each.” And she goes, “But the kids haven’t had mangoes even since we’ve been here, and it’ll be nice to take some mangoes.” He goes, “No, they’re a dollar each, we can’t afford them.” And he puts it back, and my mother…I had never seen such disappointment in my mother. She was excited to feed the kids mangoes and she kind of got disappointed when she understood and she moved on. And I pause there, I remember just as a 12-year old just stopped there. As long as I remembered with my parents, the problem used to be too much fruit. That in Pakistan, we would just eat as much as we can and my father would say, “No, no, let them eat some, let them eat, let them eat.” My mother was like, “You’re going to get stomach ache, you’re eating too much of that, and you need eat something else.” And my father was like, “No, no, let them eat, let them have fun, they’re young, let them have fun.”
Narrator: This love of fruit would eventually turn Tariq into the head of a $400 million dollar company and much of it would start with Tariq working odd jobs, delivering newspapers and mowing his neighbors lawn, and bringing the money home and giving every dollar to his mother. Years later, when he needed some money to start a business involving fruit, his mom handed him $40,000 of his own money that he earned since the age of 12.
He takes us through his amazing rags to riches, successful immigrant entrepreneur story. It goes back to the village where he was born in Pakistan. His father and grandfather were farmers while his mother had come from a poorer family. Yet somehow they seemed to know the natural qualities of successful men and instilled it in Tariq.
Tariq Farid: I think the biggest influence in the villages, and especially in our families, was that my grandfather was a numberdar – he was kind of the chief of the village for description purposes. He was a very disciplined, honorable man. And my youngest memories were with my grandfather, and the biggest influence in my life at the start was my grandfather. And I remember walking, he would everyday go from our house in the village to the land we farmed, and I would walk with him a few times and people would come up to my grandfather and say salaam to him and say, Haji Sab salaam alaikum and then he would, as he would walk, give pyar to all these children by putting their hands on their heads and I used to always be awed by the respect that he got. And that [knowing of what] he did in the present was more important to him than what he did in the future. And that’s where I really learned this concept of pay attention to your present and your future will be good.
Nothing was more important than my grandfather being happy of me, and that literally just applied throughout my life.
Narrator: Tariq was 12 years old when he came to the U.S. His uncle had come to the U.S. years before for his PhD and he sponsored Tariq’s father and his family to come to the states.
Tariq Farid: We found out like a month before we were headed to the U.S. that we’re going to the U.S. We had no idea. The only thing I remember is buying a T-shirt and pants with my mother, and me wanting the T-shirt to be as TV-looking as possible, as western-looking as possible. So, I think I got the T-shirt, had a tiger on the front of it. And we didn’t even know that you shouldn’t take a T-shirt because we arrived in August and the weather was starting to get a little cool and as soon as I landed at JFK, I was freezing because we came from a warm climate. We lived in a village so my mother was just happy that she was going to America. My father probably knew what he’s about to get us into but he didn’t want to tell us and scare us because he was working at restaurants here and he was working at Burger King and he was working at American Steakhouse and doing dishwashing and things like that. So, he was kind of – we would have never understood: “really, what do you do?” I remember just packing stuff, going to the airport, getting in a plane and arriving here. II can still close my eyes and picture the first day I landed at JFK and saw the bus that was going to take us. I can still picture that bus exactly because it was so different from what I ever imagined because Pakistan is quite different. It’s sort of like what my kids face when they go to Pakistan. That the gap is so wide.
Once I got to the U.S., life was very difficult for my parents. Life was really difficult for my mom, there is this part about coming into a new country where you don’t know anyone, you don’t know the language, you don’t know the food. I mean we came to West Haven Connecticut, there weren’t any Muslims around at that time. There was no grocery store to go buy halal meat or anything. So, it’s amazing how they did stuff. I mean we used to go and do the slaughter ourselves so we can have some halal meat. And so what they went through was quite challenging. Most of my upbringing in the U.S. was a blur because I was just so busy doing things to improve life and to help my parents improve life.
There was this lady who lived at the end of our street and I used to clean her yard, cut her lawn, do the snow, and I’ll be the first one early in the morning. It’ll be still snowing, and she’s like, “Honey, it’s still snowing, it hasn’t stop yet.” I’m like, “I just want to make sure no one else get it.” She’s like, “No, no, no, you’ll get it, just come back in about two hours when the snow ends.” She said something to me one time and she was one of these most amazing women where whenever I would go to her, she would invite me in. “Just come on in hon, come on in, come on, get out of the cold.” And she would ask, “some chocolate milk?” And I used to just love her for that, and she said something to me once, I must have been 13 or 14 years old, and she says to me, “Honey, if you keep working this hard, and keep doing it the way you to it, you’ll be a millionaire by the time you’re 35 years old.” And I was a millionaire when I was 35 years old. And I never forgot that. She kind of gave a 13-year old a formula in 30 seconds to say, work hard, be honest, do it right, you’ll be a millionaire by the time you’re 35, and it worked.
I used to take a bus after middle school all the way to Milford from West Haven, which is about 10 miles away and go work there and then my father on his way home at 10:00/11:00 pm will pick me up and bring me back home.
Narrator: At 16, his father saw an ad for a florist shop for sale for $6,000. He borrowed the money and bought it, putting Tariq in charge of the business.
The flower shop grew and prospered, and then Tariq got the idea of making fruit arrangements, to recreate the fruit-filled celebrations of his youth. His mother encouraged him. He tried it out first in his florist shop. He then set out to make it its own company. The company would be called Edible Arrangements.
Unfortunately, at around this time his mother’s health, which had never been very good, began to fail. She had had a hard life, which began in India at the time of Partition, when her family had to flee across the border to Pakistan.
Tariq Farid: My mother is born during the partition, she’s about a year old at that time.
My mother grew up in a very difficult life where my grandmother moved from a very well-to-do rich family in India to literally – one-hour notice to get on a truck and leave your home or be killed. And my grandmother used to tell us that it was a pillow – she says she only remembers just grabbing pillows and just making sure and then running out. Back then all their jewelry and everything used to be buried. They used to bury it around the different parts of the home. And she goes, “We couldn’t do anything, we picked up what we got on this truck.” And the only reason the truck came was because one of my uncle’s were in the British army and he sent some people to say go get my family because – and he said behind them people were being killed. And so, they came over with nothing and my mother grew up in a very poor family.
And they came over and my grandmother was a single mom, her husband had passed away. So, she came into Pakistan with five children, three boys and two girls, and no husband. And she went from a woman who never worked, never touched anything because the family was well-to-do, to literally having to go wash people’s dishes and things like that to bring food home and everything. So, my mother grew up in a very difficult home and then she married into my father’s family, they were well-to-do, so she married into a well-to-do family but the expectations were very high because she was poor. And so she had a very big burden but luckily she was blessed with a son. So, she – for her – she always used to share with me how that was just a joy because as soon as a son was born, she kind of – everything changed because now there’s a son. And my relationship with my mother was from the beginning more a relationship of like two friends.
My mom was probably the most amazing entrepreneur, the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. I am where I am because my mom pretty much helped me. My mom had these oral stories that were passed down in her family about what their fathers and their grandfathers had done, so she had a very high expectation of what she wanted her children to accomplish.
And my mother used to say that never forget where you come from, even when we would have a great week and we would be like, “Oh, we’re opening our fifth store, we’re doing great, business is excellent,” she would say, “Honey, don’t forget where you come from.” And she would kind of take you back to the part that you came from nothing, so don’t gloat too much.
Narrator: Unfortunately, Tariq’s mother didn’t live long enough to see just how successful her oldest son would become.
Tariq Farid: I would love to have personally acknowledge and honored her for all the things she did but like her mother, she herself just wasn’t able to see it and celebrate it and everything. One of the last thing I remember of her, is when I tried to send her to Pakistan, and I would try to get her in business class and she’s like, “No, no, plane is a plane.” She would ask me how much is it, I’m like “that’s 3,000 – $2,500.” “Oh, that’s almost double, give me the money, you know how many people I can help with that thousand?.” I just wish I could have done more for that and pay her back for all the things she did, but we weren’t able to.
I’m envious and awed by sons and daughters who have older mothers and fathers, who are in their 80s and 90s, and I wish – I would say to them that they should spend every ounce of their energy spending time with them and enjoying them, and enjoying every moment. And you don’t – by doing that, you don’t give anything, you receive.
Narrator: Tariq attributes his success to the values instilled on him by his family—his father, who was mostly working all the time to support the family, his mother, and his grandfather.
Tariq Farid: As I see elders and others grandfathers, I kind of see my grandfather in them and I think there’s a certain amount of respect that you have to give. My mother used to say that water flows downhill, so if you want to get knowledge and wisdom from somebody older, you have to lower yourself in front of them so their knowledge comes to you.
Narrator: For Tariq, the love and wisdom he received translated into a successful career doing what he loves.
Tariq Farid: I’ve always said that I love what I do and there has never been a time that I’ve done something that I didn’t love. And if I ever did something that I didn’t love, I didn’t do it anymore. I stopped doing it because I think when I enjoy something, I’m going to be highly successful in it. My mother used to say something to us when we were young. She used to say, “don’t run after money, money runs very fast. Go do some good stuffs that you love, money will chase you.” It’s that concept of don’t make your kids do things where you think they have to make money. Go have them do things where they make a difference and they enjoy it. Money will be there, and money is the byproduct of doing the right thing and doing something good. It’s the byproduct of – it’s not the main focus.
Listen to Tariq’s story here!