PUBLISHED: 6:14 PM on Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Youthful Enterprise
When Paul Massad was trying to figure out how to pay for college, he decided to start his own business. The 19-year-old history major at the University of Alaska Southeast is now one of the capital city's youngest business owners after opening Roll & Roast three months ago.

Massad serves only one item on the menu: gyro sandwiches, also known as Doner Kebab in Turkey. It's a simple recipe consisting of seasoned lamb and beef with vegetable served on pita bread. The name gyro comes from the Greek word "to spin" and refers to the rotating vertical spit (known as a gyro) used to cook the meat.

Erik Stimpfle photo
  Paul Massad, owner of Roll & Roast, makes a gyro sandwhich.
Originally from Chile, Massad moved to Juneau with his family in 2004. His father was born in Chicago and his mother is from Chile, but English is Massad's second language and something he had to learn after moving to the U.S.

"The first week I came here, I took a job at (a grocery store) because I wanted to learn English," he said. "The only thing I learned was paper or plastic. Do you want a double bag?"

He worked diligently to learn English and now speaks fluently.

Massad said he is now living "the American dream," but business wasn't always smooth, especially in the beginning.

Like many business owner, Massad faced a few obstacles before he could open for business, such as finding the right vendors.

"There is no supplier of the meat in the United States," he said. "I have to bring the meat from Mexico or Germany."

He was able to negotiate a contract with Food Service of America to import thin cuts of lamb and beef that is layered together with spices, compressed, and frozen.

His foreign cooking equipment also posed problems for getting the necessary DEC permits. The lamb and beef is cooking all the time on a rotating vertical spindle.

"Everything was foreign it wasn't really up to (U.S.) standards," Massad said. "It was pretty hard to explain ... the concept and why it was safe."

Eventually he got the permits to open, but his first business location was nearly disastrous. Massad was sharing kitchen space at a local bar but was told the first day he was too young to go to work.

"I couldn't get into my own business," he said. "One day I went in to drop a box of cucumbers and one of the bartenders called the cops on me."

Massad considered the possibility of closing up shop before he even had a chance to get his business plan off the ground.

"I opened my first day and then they kicked me out," Massad said. "I had no space. I had the meat, I had the bread, I had the veggies, I had everything in the pickup of my truck. I almost cried a little bit because of the frustration - so much effort that I had put into it."

Then Massad had a revelation.

He told himself: "Stop fooling yourself Paul. The only one that is going to make things happen now is you," he said.

Massad started asking around and he heard about a possible space available in the Merchants Wharf. The space wasn't exactly available - it was already occupied by two businesses: Collette's Diner and Chilkat Cones.

The space was small and Massad had to convince business owners Collete Costa, and Tony Teng to let him share it. Collette's Diner was a breakfast and lunch place and Massad wanted to rent the space in the evening. Massad convinced them to let him share their space by working for them for three weeks.

It's been three months since then and business is holding steady. Massad has five employees now and is able to pay his staff $11 per hour plus tips.

"I don't care if I'm sacrificing a bit of profit in order to get my people happy," he ssaid. "If I pay good wages people are happier and eventually I'll have a better response from them."

Massad is earmarking his profits for college and traveling the world.

"This country allows you to do things that no other country in the world does," he said. "The American dream is reachable for absolutely any of us. I'm the kind of guy that will tell you, if I did it you can do it."

The Roll & Roast is open from 3:30 p.m. until 2 a.m. seven days per week and is located in the Merchants Wharf next to Doc Waters.