Muslim businessman finds challenges, graciousness in Stamford
STAMFORD — Shaken by 9/11, Adnan Durrani was inspired to launch an enterprise that incorporated his Muslim faith.
Ten years ago Durrani started the American Halal Company in downtown Stamford, a business that manufactures organic frozen foods and healthy snacks under the brandname Saffron Road, with products sold nationwide and at Whole Foods.
The name Saffron Road, Durrani said, was inspired by cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad project, which has sought to foster global collaboration through the arts. The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes connecting Asia, Europe and Africa; Saffron comes from the orange stigmas of the purple crocus flower that grows in Asia and Europe.
“What Yo-Yo Ma was trying to do is show the beauty, commonality and diversity of these cultures,” Durrani said. “I wanted to bring a more compassionate understanding of American Muslims, and build an enterprise that was appealing to people of all faiths.”
Durrani has, by many measures, succeeded. His company has won awards, is launching new products and employs a staff of 35 headquartered on Summer Street. The type of food produced means that many employees are followers of Islam.
As one of an estimated 150,000 Muslims statewide, Durrani, 57, is critical of President Donald Trump, whose executive-order immigration ban targeted seven mostly Muslim countries. A freeze of the order was upheld last week by a federal court. Critics argue the ban is unconstitutional and hurts the economy.
Immigrants like Durrani — who was born in Pakistan and came to the United States at age 5 — started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses in 2011, and are twice as likely to start a business as those native-born, according to a New American Economy report. Immigrants own 18 percent of the nation’s small businesses, according to a Fiscal Policy Institute study based on 2010 U.S. Census data.
Durrani said he’s motivated by more than profit. He measures Saffron Road’s performance on so-called triple bottom line, which looks at social, environmental and financial outcomes.
The principle of triple bottom line, he said, aligns with halal, denoting foods made according to Muslim law, which prohibits pork, alcohol and some animal byproducts. Saffron Road makes halal pad thai, teriyaki chicken, beef bulgogi, enchiladas poblano and chicken nuggets.
“Customers are attracted to our values — sustainable farming, humane treatment of animals,” he said.
The idea of halal also extends beyond food, Durrani said. “It’s about how you carry yourself in life and dealing with things in a just and equitable manner. These are values my faith aspires to,” he said.
Durrani, who lives with his wife in Westport, is affiliated with the Stamford Islamic Center and American Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies.
His family has found being Muslim in Fairfield County challenging at times. His wife, a convert, and son, a graduate of Staples High School and Columbia University, have both struggled, he said.
“As diverse as we like to think Fairfield County is, it’s really not,” he said. “My son had his challenges growing up in this community. He’s lived in a privileged town, privileged high school, privileged college — but there was a kind of vanilla veneer.”
Durrani is concerned about how Islam is perceived and how Muslims are treated in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency. He believes hate crimes are on the rise.
“This started happening way before he ran for office, but he has stoked it, and I’m hoping it doesn’t go to an extreme,” he said.
Yet Durrani has been encouraged by the support he receives for his business.
“The surprise for us has been the support of the American non-Muslim community,” he said. “In spite of all the craziness you still have a majority of Americans who are very gracious.”