He told people to come when they had money, but especially to come when they didn’t. He was a local icon, a businessman who said his job was not to make money but to feed people.
Faz Husain, owner of Ann Arbor’s Hello Faz Pizza, died of pulmonary fibrosis Thursday. He was 54.
Husain had been diagnosed with idiopathic lung disease several months ago. He is survived by a wife and three children.
Although he no will longer stand behind the counter of his shop at the corner of West Liberty Street and Stadium Boulevard, friends and family said the cheerful pizza man will remain in their memories.
“I’ve been (at the University) for four years now, and there has not been one day where he has not been smiling and laughing and talking to us,” said Wajeeha Shuttari, vice president of Muslim Students’ Association. “He was very personable and friendly, and he was just a really good man.”
Husain had gained recognition in the community for hiring everyone from hitchhikers to homeless people to homemakers. Although not all of these employees worked out for the best, in his 39 years of business, Husain never fired anyone.
“Even if they cheated and stole money from us, they would come back the next day and he would give them a second chance,” said Husain’s son Ali, a Business school senior and pitcher on the varsity baseball team.
The pizza man’s oldest son suspected that his father’s generosity may have been the reason that the family chain did not achieve the same financial success as Domino’s Pizza, which started in Ypsilanti about the same time Husain opened Hello Faz Pizza in 1967.
“I would be in the back working really hard, and he would just give out five or 10 pizzas to someone for free,” Ali Husain said.
In 2000, Husain was invited to travel with then-president Bill Clinton on a trip across the Indian subcontinent of Asia.
“I was one of 600 people (who Clinton invited), but I spent a lot of time with the president,” he told The Michigan Daily afterward. “We went jogging. We went to Parliament House.”
Husain also served on the Ypsilanti City Council and lost a mayoral bid.
Faz Husain supported countless community organizations ranging from a recreational basketball team to the Muslim Students’ Association.
Engineering senior Chris Blauvelt, president of the Muslim Students’ Association, remembered that Husain would often give free pizzas to the organization and deliver them personally.
“He would always have the biggest smile on his face whenever he showed up,” Blauvelt said.
Husain had a habit of making personal deliveries – especially when children were involved.
Ali Husain remembered how anytime an elementary school ordered pizzas, his father would make the deliveries himself.
Faz Uncle, as he was known in Ann Arbor Muslim community, would tell the children he’d brought them pizza because they were behaving well.
“Sometimes (kids) would come into the shop and show their report card and my dad would give them free pizza,” Ali Husain said.
Although Faz Husain was not a celebrity, his son remembered how it always seemed that his father was famous.
“I couldn’t even go anywhere with my dad without him talking to a bunch of people and saying hi,” Ali Husain said.
In addition to his local fame, Husain rubbed elbows with national and international celebrities. The walls of the family’s tiny pizza shop are covered with photographs of Husain with famous people ranging from Mother Theresa to Bob Hope to Hulk Hogan. These pictures are part of an impressive hodgepodge of autographs, newspaper clippings, pictures and photographs featuring Husain’s family and friends.
It seems that everyone he met became part of his family.
“The first time I met him he told me he loved me. He said that to everybody he knew . and you always knew he meant it,” said Nick Roumel, an Ann Arbor attorney and a regular at Hello Faz.
Hello Faz employee Don Shelton said he would remember Husain for his sense of humor.
Shelton previously worked in the auto industry and came to know Husain on deliveries.
When Husain heard that Shelton had had his hours cut, Husain told him “wash your hands and put on an apron,” giving him a job on the spot.
Shelton has worked at the shop for six months.
“Everyone he met he treated like they were so special, and for that 30 seconds his complete focus was on them,” Ali Husain said.
The notes taped to the front window, the stream of customers looking to give their condolences and the flower bouquets left in the front of Hello Faz Pizza indicate saying goodbye to Faz Husain will be anything but easy.