An interview with Wazeem Raheem
Wazeem Raheem (32), or “Zeem” as he says many call him, is co-owner of Bill’s on the Hill in Hawesville Kentucky, along with Mafaz Ansar. His native country is Sri Lanka, but now most of his family lives in Dubai. He is dedicated to excellence in his businesses and is a very interesting person. The Clarion had the opportunity to talk with Wazeem and learn about his love of animals, the unique pets he owns, as well as his passion for collecting luxury cars and traveling.
Interesting Pets – Maine Coon Cats
Wazeem loves animals and has many unique pets at his home in Elizabethtown. “I’m a big animal person,” he said. “I used to have so many pets back home in Sri Lanka. When I came to America, I wanted to have a few cats that were really different, like nobody else has.”
He has 2 Maine Coon Cats, a male and a female. “I wanted to get mine from Russia,” he said. “You can get those cats in America but they are not big enough and won’t get to their real size. So, mine weighs around 23 or 24 pounds and almost 4 feet, the male one.
I wanted the pure bred, so I ordered from Russia. In the beginning I got one, the male, then after that, 7-8 months later, I ordered the female. It has costed me close to $3,000 just to get them here. For both cats, it costed me somewhere around $6,500.”
He said this breed is the best and friendliest of all cats. “My cats can understand anything, pretty much. They talk to people. I can understand what they’re saying. We play hide-and-seek. He will listen to anything I say. It is kind of like a dog. That cat is the sweetest cat.”
The female had her first litter of 7 kittens not long ago and he has sold 5 of them. He said he knew others who tried to order from Russia and lost their money. This way, he said, he is able to offer them a chance to actually come to his home and see the kittens and not be swindled. “If they want breeding rights, I’m charging $2,000 for each kitten. If they just want it as a pet, I’m charging $1,500,” he said.
He also plans to purchase 2 different wildcat breeds, a caracal and a serval. “The caracal looks like a mountain lion,” he said. “The serval is kind of like an African wildcat.” The caracal he wants to get, he said, is $16,000
Wazeem has a macaw (a tropical parrot), peacocks, rabbits and a sugar glider (similar to a squirrel). He said he keeps all of his animals in his house and also has a fenced-in back yard so they have an open area outdoors.
“I have the all-colored one (macaw). I put him in my kitchen,” he said. “It’s just like an open cage. He just says, ‘Hello.’ He’s new. He calls with a different noise saying he’s hungry. I’ve heard they can live up to 60-100 years.”
Wazeem collects cars and currently owns 7. “I love cars,” he said. “I don’t do any drugs. I don’t do anything so, pretty much, cars are my drug. I go crazy with it. I have really nice cars, fast cars and luxury cars I collect. I normally don’t keep a car more than six months. It’s not all about making money when I sell them. Sometimes it’s about having fun.”
He owns a BMW 540i, sports full-luxury, a Nissan GT-R and a Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson Edition truck, to name some. He said the Nissan GT-R used to be his favorite car. “But I already got it now,” he said. “That was my dream car for so long. The dream changes once you reach your goal so now I’m looking for a different one. I’m already looking to get a Ferrari, probably 458 Italia. I’m not going to buy it brand new. I normally don’t spend too much money on them; that’s why I only use them for 6 months. Sometimes I make money, but most probably I don’t lose money. I try to sell them for what I spent on them.”
Wazeem’s Journey to the U.S.
“My dad is an administrative officer, he works for the state. My mom is a teacher. I’m the youngest. I have 2 sisters. My oldest sister is a doctor and so is her husband. My second sister is a doctor and her husband is an engineer,” he said. “They all live in Dubai now.”
His parents wanted him to be an engineer but he said he really wanted to do business and work for himself. He went to school for architectural engineering at University of Wolverhampton in England.
After graduation, he started traveling to different countries. “My family wanted me to start something of my own instead of just traveling,” he said. “They sent me here (to the U.S.). I wanted to get my master’s in architectural engineering. When I wanted to transfer here it was a big procedure. It took a little bit longer. After that, I got (accepted into) a college in Michigan, Ferris State University. I checked the weather. At that time, it was wintertime. It was too cold. I didn’t want to go. I decided to start my own business (instead).”
He said he didn’t work until he was 24-years-old. “Until I came to America, I never had a job. I didn’t have to work. My parents gave me a thousand dollars to see that I can stay on my own. Normally, I hang out with friends and I travel. My family have wealth. In my country they give their wealth to their kids. They say, ‘We will give our wealth to you but if you want us to, you have to show us that you can do it with your own.’ I had to prove that.”
Wazeem’s business partner, Mafaz, is originally from Sri Lanka as well. They met in Kentucky. “Mafaz had some stores around Hart County. I know him, since he’s from Sri Lanka, and it’s such a small town in Glasgow,” he said. “He had a store and he wanted me to come and run it and I started working for him for a little bit, 3 or 4 years.
Then I got an opportunity to start my own business. I got busy with my work and then I decided it was time to start another business so I was talking to Mafaz saying, ‘I want to start a business.’ He told me that Bill’s IGA was for sale. He asked me if I wanted to be a partner with him, so I said, ‘O.k.’ After that, I came here (to Hancock County).” They purchased Bill’s last year from local owners, Billy Jr. and Wayne Stephens.
Wazeem said he has “really good support” here. “Some people when you go to some areas they say, ‘We don’t go to a different person’s foreign store,’ that type of thing. Here, I don’t see any difference. Everybody likes. If I stand in the store, they come and talk to me. They don’t show any difference. They are helping me and I’m helping back.”
He said he’s planning to do a front walk-in cooler so people can more easily access the drinks in the front. “In the summertime I’m going to have the ice cream with cones (soft serve),” he said. “I plan to do a little bit on the outside as well, reseal the parking lot and a lot of things. I did do a lot of improvements after I took it over – a seating area so the people can dine in here and I’m trying to get my customers’ opinions of what they want, the foods they like and everything. I’m not going by what I want, I go by what my customers want and what they’re requesting. We go on Facebook and go by whatever they ask. We put a post so they can post what they like us to improve.”
His charity work
“I realized how hard it is to make money, so I do a lot of charities,” he said. “I am helping one of the people to build a house completely. It doesn’t cost me much. I almost built two houses so far. I helped the people to do the schooling for education, and I support that if somebody has a medical issue. I help different people who need it.”
He has several businesses now. “I have a wholesale business,” he said. “It’s in Elizabethtown. I have a smoke shop with entertainment and hookah lounge. People can come and hang out, like if they don’t have an Xbox, they can just come and play because E-town doesn’t have much entertainment. I have some rental properties, houses and a restaurant building I lease as well, some in Elizabethtown and some in Hart County.
I like this area. Good people. Everywhere I go I have a lot of friends. My customers, I talk to them. Over here, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, very nice people.”
Wazeem traveled to 44 states before he moved to this area. “I used to travel a lot before I came to Bill’s IGA,” he said. “This is a big operation. This is not just a gas station so I have to be here. Before this I traveled every month, sometimes twice a month or three times a month. Now I just have been on only one or two trips since I took over at Bill’s IGA.”
He said of all the states he’s been to, he loves traveling back to South Dakota the most. “It’s the best place to travel. There’s a lot to do. I’ve never been to SD in the wintertime because every winter I go to Alaska. That is one of my favorite places to go in wintertime. I go to Fairbanks and there’s a resort called Chena Hot Springs. If you go there, you can do everything in that place.
The best part is the outside will be negative 20 degrees, something like that. They have a hot springs and it is almost like 100-130 degrees. Some places you can’t even stay in the water. But, with that cold, it’s really awesome. It’s like a completely different experience. I have been to so many hot springs, but Alaskan hot springs is a completely different experience. With that cold and that hot – it is fabulous. You have to go and experience it.
They have dog sledding, ice museums, northern lights and ice fishing. There’s a lot to do but if you spend 3 or 4 days, you can do it. This January or February I’m planning to go to Anchorage instead of Fairbanks. I really want to go this June to Fairbanks because they have the longest daytime. I like to experience that and do some fishing too.”
By Jennifer Wimmer