Aman Vadhwaniya grew up in a family that valued enterprise and education. When he graduated high school, he and his father embarked on a dream – to open their own restaurant. Then they saw an opportunity to make that venture a way to give back to a favorite philanthropy.
Aman Vadhwaniya always had hobbies growing up in Dallas, and cooking was close to his heart. He also helped out his father, who ran a gas station business all the years he was growing up, and he learned about business along the way.
In his senior year of high school, Aman and his father talked about exploring a new venture together in the food industry. They visited restaurants and saw how they put together menus, and considered the factors in locations. They sat down and thought up a menu together.
They considered the idea from different angles. What niche was open in their area? There were already many burger places, pizza places, and Mexican restaurants. But there was a gap in good Asian food – and Asian fusion food could reach a wide audience.
What’s more, many in the community committed to halal food could use more dining options, Aman thought. An “Asian fusion” menu could build on the family’s background with Indian cuisine.
So they settled on an Asian fusion format: hot and sour soups, spicy fried chicken, stir-fried vegetables with ginger, different styles of fried rice, curries, and noodles.
Preparing to Launch
After months of preparation and chasing down licenses and approvals, they opened A Wok That Rocks on August 21, 2018. Just a week before that opening, the food team from the jamat khana (the local Ismaili congregation gathering place) came and tested the dishes and offered feedback. The team absorbed those suggestions and were heartened that everything seemed to be aligning.
Then, a few days before opening, Aman remembered they needed a website. A couple of nights before, he realized: “We don’t even have a website yet!”
Everyone in the family was juggling a lot. His mother and sister were pitching in too. Aman was preparing to start college classes the day after the restaurant opened. But on the big day, they opened the doors and customers came in. Soon they were getting referrals and stellar ratings on social media and websites like Yelp.
Deciding to Give Back
The decision to link with the Aga Khan Foundation came as a sudden inspiration. The day before the big opening, Aman was putting the final touches on the menu when he realized they had a great opportunity – to give back.
“One day before, as I was making the website and making the final touches to the menu,” Aman said, he realized he needed to add one thing. “I had to add the mention at the bottom that we’d donate 5 percent to AKDN.”
He went to his father with the brainstorm, feeling a bit sheepish that they would have to make one more change to the menu.
Naushad recalled, “It’s a little funny and makes me a little proud too. He came to my room and said, ‘Dad, I made a mistake.’ And I said, ‘Man, don’t do a mistake! We already spent too much money and I don’t want any mistakes.’ He showed me the menu and I said, ‘Everything looks okay.’ And he said, ‘Look at the bottom.’”
The father looked down and saw the sentence Aman had added, about the donation to Aga Khan Foundation. “I just got a tear in my eyes,” he said. “I was really happy.”
Gift from the Heart
How had they come to that decision, not an easy one for a brand new venture? “AKF and AKDN has done so much for us,” Aman said of his family’s experience. “Giving back from the heart felt right.”
“It’s amazing to see how they transform a community,” Aman said of the Aga Khan Development Network. He had seen the difference that AKF’s work made for communities, evident in so many before and after stories and images. “They just improve the quality of life for people.”
A volunteer for AKF in Dallas worked with the family and helped them set up a system for making a monthly contribution based on the restaurant receipts. That system has worked well.
The Way Forward
While the restaurant is a lot of work, it has given the family a stronger connection, Aman said. They work out each new question together. “It feels like home.” The donations to AKF confirm the good feeling.
After nearly two months, they’re finding a rhythm. Their goal is to stick with the venture and see how it goes. They can almost imagine a second location, Aman said.
This post is part of the #humansoftheworld series on our blog—a collection of tales we can both relate to and marvel at. Here, we share stories of appreciation, self-reliance, and strength from across the Aga Khan Development Network.