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Ike Shehadeh serves up October Surprise

Everybody needs a role model. As a child, we all should aspire to being someone who can make a difference in this world — of being a visionary, a game changer or even president one day.

President Barack Obama said this week while campaigning:

“It’s up to the young people here to choose the future that you believe in. … that you want to see.”

That’s exactly what Ike Shehadeh has in mind. Shehadeh — the beloved sandwich wizard behind Ike’s Place — wants to be President of the United States.

Shehadeh started his presidential campaign October 11 with a YouTube video and a public discussion at the Swedish American Hall & Library the following day.

On November 6, he will be writing his name on the ballot and voting himself as President.

So where does Shehadeh see himself in 10 years? The White House:

“I will be President of the United States for at least one term. I’ll have a family, kids and the goal would be to teach this style of philosophy of business and also help entrepreneurs that want to get into a new line of work. … I want to be an example and show people that I can stand up or that anyone else can stand up. It’s okay that I failed in the past and it’s okay if I’m gonna fail today.”

Shehadeh started the frenzy we all know as Ike’s Place on 16th Street in San Francisco with whimsical sandwiches named after prominent personalities, San Francisco Giants players and a dizzying assortment of esoteric references.

An ambitious yet resilient guy at 30, Shehadeh’s dream of becoming president started when he was eight years old.

Shehadeh understands it is a difficult task and there are many challenges, but this little guy doesn’t give up. Literally.

A native of San Francisco, Shehadeh hit a few road bumps in life early on. He was homeless, dealt drugs and struggled to keep the family’s business afloat which they later lost.

On October 31, 2007, Shehadeh rebounded and opened his first sandwich shop. As it goes down in Ike’s history, it was a tragic day.

It was Halloween in the Castro yet he sold ZERO sandwiches on opening day. His signage wasn’t even ready in time for the grand opening.

With literally no customers rushing to buy his sandwiches, Shehadeh was depressed and didn’t open for another week. On November 7, 2007, Shehadeh stood outside of his store and started talking to the few customers to try his sandwiches. That day, he got nine people to come in and buy his sandwiches.

As Ike’s Place became more popular, Shehadeh was sued by disgruntled neighbors unhappy with the crowds his business was attracting in the Castro. They wanted him out, but an outpouring of over 100 letters were sent to the Planning Department and there was a unanimous approval for him to stay.

Following the rebirth of his flagship San Francisco location at 3489 16th Street – kitty corner from his original hole in the wall – Shehadeh’s sandwich empire blossomed into 10 shops from San Francisco to Santa Clara, with the latest one in Danville.

As his sandwiches spread, Shehadeh stuck to his philosophy about business and entrepreneurship:

“All you have to do is just make the move even if you’re not ready. I wasn’t ready. I still don’t know how to run a restaurant right now. I still don’t. If someone who knew how to run a restaurant right now came here, they’d probably pick a dozen things that I’m doing incorrectly. It didn’t stop me from opening a restaurant. I’m going to keep doing it and I’m going to get better at it every single day.”

His San Francisco store alone sells more than 1,000 sandwiches a day. He has also gained collegiate popularity with his Stanford and San Francisco State University locations. Monterey and Walnut Creek locations are in the works by the end of this year, with even bigger dreams to open his first Southern California location in 2013.

What’s the secret to Ike’s business success, you ask? Well for one thing, Shehadeh shows up:

“I show up everyday. I learn from everything, both the good and the bad. Very rarely do I repeat a mistake. When I was the only one in the store, they knew that I cared about the sandwiches. That love shows. When you care about something, people notice.”

As the oldest of eight children, Shehadeh understands the importance of partnerships. His mother, Huda Shehadeh, is his first investor. Shehadeh has also partnered with At the Crossroads, a charity organization focused on helping homeless youths and young adults.

Sure, there’s money to be made, yet there must be a mutual love by the cities for Shehadeh before he makes a move:

“If the community wants the culture that I have created where they say ‘We love you, we respect you and we appreciate you’ then I will open everywhere.”

Resonating SFBay’s #DoIt mantra:

“I just want to tell you that if you have something you want to do then just go and do it! Coz you’re not gonna learn, until you do it.”

Make sure that you are learning from your mistake and that you’re tracking what you’re doing, especially with marketing. If you’re doing something, and you’re not seeing the results, then that means you need to do something different. It’s not what your selling, but how you are doing it.”

Tomorrow, celebrating the fifth anniversary of their original 16th Street location, Shehadeh and Ike’s Place have absolutely zero chance of selling zero sandwiches.

Though you might want to be in line when they open at 10 a.m. to grab your Barry Z. (turkey, avocado, havarti), Matt Cain (roast beef, turkey, salami, godfather sauce, provolone) or even a Madison Bumgarner (ribeye steak, pepper jack, american cheese, and spicy barbecue sauce) before heading to the World Series parade on Market Street.

And who knows? If Shehadeh has his way, he might get his own parade down Market Street someday — flanked by the Secret Service and feasting on a Paul Reubens.

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