Editor’s note: The content of this article was changed to reflect corrections after the date of publication.
When Mohamed Shetiah moved to East Lansing from his home in Egypt 21 years ago, he didn’t know English, the American culture, or exactly what to expect in the United States.
The only thing Shetiah really knew, he said, was that he was coming to the U.S. for opportunities he couldn’t find at home.
“I came here for a better life, to go to a good school and start a new life and career,” Shetiah said. “Now, here I am.”
On Tuesday, Shetiah opened his 20th Biggby Coffee shop at 4480 Hagadorn Road, in Okemos, giving him more than twice as many stores as any other Biggby franchise owner — which he said was another step in his journey to fulfill his dreams.
Coming to the U.S. in 1989, Shetiah moved in with his uncle, who already had lived in the country for 20 years. Shetiah said his first few years in his new homeland, when he worked various odd jobs at fast food restaurants and golf courses, were not what he had hoped.
“I was a little disappointed at first,” he said “You come in, all you think about is Hollywood. Then you land in Lansing, Mich., at midnight, and it’s not what you saw on TV a couple hours ago.”
However, while working at a Flap Jack restaurant in Frandor, things began to turn around for Shetiah when he met CEO and co-founder of Biggby Coffee, Bob Fish, and fellow co-founder Mary Roszel, who both owned a Flap Jack on Waverly Road in Lansing.
Fish, more affectionately known as Biggby Bob to his customers, said he sympathized with Shetiah when he met him, as he also grew up moving between countries that were strange to him.
“I never forgot what it was like to not know the language, not know where you are and not know the culture,” said Fish, who lived in Germany, France and England throughout his childhood. “When I had the opportunity for those roles to be reversed with Mohamed, it just felt like the right thing to do.”
When Fish and Roszel opened the original Biggby, 270 W. Grand River Ave., in 1995, Shetiah still was a close
friend and even lent a helping hand at the original store while he was working for Marriott.
Finally, in 2001, Shetiah was given his first major opportunity to follow his dreams when Fish and Roszel offered to sell him their original shop so they could focus on expanding Biggby.
“When they offered me that first store, I was like, ‘Are you serious?’” Shetiah said. “That was a big, big risk that I don’t even think my parents would have taken.”
However, Fish said he never doubted Shetiah’s ability to manage his shop.
“I knew he would come this far,” Fish said. “There’s nobody that has the level of dedication that Mohamed has.”
Now, nine years after becoming a Biggby franchisee, Shetiah owns nearly 20 percent of Biggby’s 110 shops.
Shetiah’s brother, Fathy Shetiah, who became a business partner of Mohamed’s four years ago, said his brother’s leadership is his strongest asset.
“He’s one of the very few people that whenever he touches and puts his heart into something, nothing will stop him,” Fathy Shetiah said.
“I always had no doubt he had the ability to be one of the most successful people I know.”
In spite of the accomplishments he’s earned in the last 10 years, Mohamed Shetiah said he is not yet satisfied.
“I still have a lot of big plans,” he said. “We still have a lot to do, a lot of places to be and a lot of Biggby Coffee shops to open.”