From the January 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

The explosion was anticipated, but as it ripped through the night, I had to resist the urge to duck. I was in the midst of a lavish Independence Day party thrown by IHOP's largest franchisee, Joe Katin. Joe owns the ranch next door to Southfork Ranch, home of the fictional Ewings, who helped put Dallas on the map. Between bombs bursting in air, I learned of another IHOP success story--Rima Hakim.

Hakim, a petite, 37-year-old single mother of two preteen boys, immigrated to the United States at age 18. Her childhood was spent in a war-ravaged part of the Middle East where the bombs were noted for their destruction, not their beauty.

Hakim embodies a growing breed of franchisees--namely, hard-working immigrants making personal sacrifices to attain success. It's a little-known phenomenon, but it makes sense: The franchise offering circulars for some of our more notable American icons, such as Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, IHOP and Motel 6, show franchising can be a great solution for those who know little of the American culture.

Hakim experienced the shock of a new environment when she sat for her first IHOP franchisee-training exam--at age 20. "I was sitting at a table and wondered what all the bottles on the table were for. Finally, I had the courage to ask, and they told me they were for syrup," she says. "I had never tasted syrup before--I had never had a pancake." Hakim was in training to run an IHOP her parents had bought, but she persevered and now owns and/or operates five IHOP restaurants and is preparing to build another.

To her advantage, Hakim says she learns quickly and likes to nip problems in the bud. "When the food is delivered, I watch my customers' faces," she says. "If they have issues, I go to them before they have to ask."

Hakim now employs more than 300 employees and has inspired her older brother, Ramsey, to get into franchising--he now owns all the IHOP franchises in San Antonio, Texas. Hakim's large home in Frisco, Texas, is a far cry from the bomb shelters of her youth--all because she wasn't afraid to work hard to elevate herself to a new paradigm.


Todd D. Maddocks is a franchise attorney, small-business consultant and founder of Franchisedecision.com.