Maali Enterprises Inc.

Diverse businesses in the Sunshine State
Written by: 
Ivy Carter
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

Maali Enterprises Inc. is a family-owned management and investment firm based in Orlando and serving a broad area in central Florida. Jesse Maali founded the company in 1989 after coming to the United States from Palestine. Sadly, Jesse passed away in 2005 and his son, Bassel Maali, along with his brothers and sisters, have since taken over the business. “When my father first came to the U.S., he worked in New York and New Jersey for many years,” Bassel recounts. “He got tired of the grind and moved the family to Florida.”

“My father became familiar with Ponderosa Steakhouse in New Jersey and he liked the concept of family-style dining,” Bassel continues. “He started the first one when we had moved to Florida and now we have four of them.”

The business has also invested in Bargain World, a souvenir shop chain with four locations. MEI’s related entity owns these stores, although a third party manages the retail operations there. MEI and its affiliates also have a growing presence in commercial real estate development in the region.

Family dining

MEI and its affiliates are heavily invested in its restaurants. The Ponderosa Steakhouse chain has been a main line of business for the company. “We own and operate the steakhouses and we have investments in other restaurants with our business partners, as well,” Bassel notes. “We have a large management staff that has been around with us for decades. Some of them started out when we opened our first restaurant more than 20 years ago. Many of our employees have been around just as long or longer. We are blessed to have such a good staff. We have the store-level restaurant management, as well as our central head office where all of the overhead type work is performed, including accounting, human resources and marketing for the restaurants and our other ventures.”

One component that sets MEI’s restaurants apart from others is that the four Ponderosa restaurants have a different layout than others around the country. “We have a very unique floor plan,” Bassel says. “Ours are some of the largest in the country, measuring around 8,800 square feet. My father designed these. We just completed renovating all four of these establishments after 20 years with the original premises.”

MEI has moved away from the traditional buffet-style of the restaurants. “We are concentrating on establishing our restaurants as steakhouses with a soup, salad and dessert bar,” he continues. “We have really built up our fresh salad options in recent years. We have a new cranberry spinach salad, seafood salad, tuna pasta salad, cucumber tomato salad and a broccoli grape salad. People are moving toward eating healthier. We have replaced items such as meatballs and chicken wings and we are looking into different entrees. Now we are focusing on adding new chicken dishes and seafood. We have a promotion now for surf and turf, with lobster from Maine of course.”

Commercial ventures

Outside of the restaurants, MEI has interests in other business ventures that either it or its partners operate and manage. The team also develops commercial real estate. “We own commercial real estate in central Florida, including a shopping center that is still under development,” he details. “We are currently wrapping up work and seeking tenants for a strip center we own on a property outside of a local Super Walmart. A lot of our work consists of maintaining existing properties. We have several properties that we didn’t develop, but we inherited from business partners.”

The company’s diverse investments have helped the team weather the recent economic downturn. Bassel took an experienced approach to managing expenses and keeping the business ahead, despite changes in the market. “We had to get rid of bad assets and concentrate on our good assets,” he explains. “We have maintained those restaurants that were performing well, as well as other properties that were performing well. We shed a lot of dead weight and we are still recovering from the recession.”

Bassel has seen major improvements in the market and he and his team are looking forward to growing again. “We are in the process of seeking to acquire or develop new properties, new restaurants and moving forward,” he says. “We are finding that in the last year or so, commercial real estate is picking up. There is more interest from tenants. Credit market has loosened up, too, so we are encouraged by that. As far as commercial real estate, we are doing a lot of work with development and tenant transactions. We are still slowly recovering the restaurant aspect and rising commodities and food costs don’t help. On top of that, there are a lot of labor-related costs levied on employers. These are the challenges you face as a restaurant owner, so it is almost always a matter of surviving.”

MEI and its affiliates have managed to retain stability despite the challenges faced in recent years. The four restaurants continue to place in the top five Ponderosa Steakhouse franchises, a trend that has continued for more than 20 years. As a family business, Bassel and his team understand that integrity goes a long way. Maali Enterprises Inc. strives to provide value and satisfaction to its customers and opportunities for tenants and employees, all while building a strong brand in central Florida.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Vertich Insurance Agency