That was when Iftikhar purchased the legendary Square institution Tommy’s House of Pizza. Several months later, he adopted the old name for the new convenience store he was opening next door, Tommy’s Value.
Now he plans to open a jewelry store, and an Indian restaurant and a grocery store in Somerville—all bearing the “Tommy’s” name. “My vendors call me ‘Mr. Tommy’ sometimes,” he says, adding that he never corrects them. “I’d like to make Tommy’s my trademark.”
Iftikhar wasn’t always on track to Tommydom.
After owning and overseeing a leather tannery in his native Pakistan, Iftikhar moved to the U.S. 17 years ago.
He owned two 7-11 franchises for several years, but says he became frustrated when corporate rules prevented him from making decisions for himself.
Making a foray into the pizza business at Tommy’s House of Pizza—his first independent venture—Iftikhar picked up his pseudonym but found that mixing dough and serving slices didn’t suit him. The labor was too physical for his fragile health, he says.
By November of that year, he moved next door and into that distinctively American business: the convenience store. In his brief tenure at the helm of Tommy’s Value, Iftikhar has gradually tried to redefine convenience.
At his fledgling store, Iftikhar offers a wide selection of candy and chips and sodas—typical convenience store fare—but he hopes to make the store much more.
“We would like students to consider Tommy’s as their Harvard canteen shop,” he says between puffs of a cigarette in his makeshift office in the basement of the store.
He has tried selling everything from cell phones to Pakistani wood carvings at his store. He introduced DVDs for rent on three small racks in a corner of the store last year—an offering that has expanded into 500 titles in the store’s back room. He plans to open an on-site juice bar and is considering selling fresh Indian food made at a restaurant he hopes to open in Somerville.
From Figurines to Fresh Juice
For Iftikhar, stocking a wide range of products has always just been a way of appealing to the tastes of his customers.
His small office is cluttered with wholesale boxes of food products, picture frames and wooden figurines. The miniature statues are relics from the opening days of the shop, when Iftikhar thought that Pakistani wood carvings and woven shawls might help move soda and chips off the shelves.
“Those didn’t work,” he says, adding that some had broken.
Amidst the clutter of merchandise that moves and less successful products, Iftikhar is seated behind a desk in the left hand corner of the room, vividly explaining his plans for the future.